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Great WEY Motor: New brand tries to pioneer “Chinese luxury”

The rapid emergence of new brands in the industry continues.

Great Wall Motor is the latest to do so, launching its luxury SUV brand, WEY, on November 17, before the start of this year’s Guangzhou Auto Show. WEY’s arrival came less than a month after Geely announced to the world its new LYNK & CO brand, and is amid a barrage of new brands that have suddenly appeared out of nowhere so far this year.

WEY took the show and perhaps the entire industry by storm and surprise, stealing the spotlight by putting its stand in a hall of luxury brands right next to Lincoln (heck, even their logos look the same), Jaguar Land Rover and Acura.

And yes, WEY is indeed named after Wei Jianjun, the charismatic but often low-key founder and chairman of China’s largest SUV manufacturer.

But Wei was rather high-key about WEY, telling the media that the brand’s mission is to offer affordable luxury SUVs for a new generation of consumers and bring them closer to their dreams of owning a real luxury vehicle different than existing luxury vehicles that often exude lusciousness and extravagance.

“I feel the responsibility to produce China’s own luxury SUVs so that Chinese consumers can buy and experience affordable and quality luxury,” said Wei at the show. “Thanks to the years of experience we have accumulated through our focus in the SUV market, we have the capability to do it. I’m going to promise by my last name to defend this brand like safeguarding my own honor and conviction. We are going to make WEY a strong brand through our usual promise, responsibility and confidence.”

That type of luxury, what Great Wall Motor calls “light luxury,” will get its first test next April, when the W01 SUV officially launches to the market.

What differentiates the WEY brand from its already successful Haval SUV “mass” brand? Pierre Leclercq, vice president of design at Great Wall Motor and WEY’s design director, told me that WEY will be priced in the ¥150,000-¥200,000 ($23,077-$30,769) range while Havals will remain under ¥150,000. In addition, WEY will also use materials that are different and offer more specs and features to choose from that won’t be available on Havals. The company even hired a former Audi senior executive as WEY’s brand CEO.

It is interesting to note that WEY and its first products have actually been in secret development for four years since 2013, the same year that Great Wall Motor launched the Haval brand, which has since then become the best-selling SUV brand in China by far with its top model H6 now selling more than 50,000 units a month.

I spent quite some time at the Guangzhou Auto Show checking out the exterior and interior craftsmanship as well as material selection for the W01. With the exception of a few minor details that need improvement, I thought the overall build quality was rather impressive and definitely worth the price range that WEY is going for.

For the moment, CBU/CAR believes WEY’s efforts to pioneer what it calls “Chinese luxury SUV” is simply another attempt at trying to accomplish what the Haval H8 and H9 could not do: “high-end” SUVs priced at around ¥200,000 – a major glass ceiling for Chinese brands – that sell in meaningful numbers.

Will WEY be one of the ways Chinese brands break that glass ceiling? We will find out in a few months’ time.

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