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European carmakers beware: The Chinese are seriously coming

This year’s China factor in Frankfurt belongs to Chery and WEY, who will be exhibiting at the biennial IAA Cars in Germany, the premier European auto show, for the first time ever (see FEATURE on p. 1).

They will be following the footsteps of Geely, who showed up 12 years ago as the first ever Chinese automaker to exhibit at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and Chang’an, who exhibited in 2013. Chery and WEY will be going up against big name brands including Toyota, Hyundai, Renault and Citroën in Hall 8.0 at the Frankfurt Messe.

Unlike Geely’s appearance in Frankfurt in 2005, which was primarily to learn and understand the international markets, and Chang’an’s in 2013, which used the occasion to unveil a new model for its home market, Chery and WEY are showing up with serious ambitions and intentions of entering the lucrative yet tough European market.

Chery’s compact SUV codenamed M31T based on the company’s M3X platform dedicated for compact/mid-size sedan/SUV for international markets will make its global premiere. The model is supposed to lead a range of new models aimed at the European markets that will also be offered with electrified powertrain options and meeting the current Euro-VI emissions standards. Chery is also in the process of setting up a European R&D center headed by its former design director James Hope, and company CEO Chen Anning said earlier this year it wants to enter Europe within five years.

WEY on the other hand is showing up as the first Chinese high-end brand to ever appear at a major international motor show, less than a year after the brand was launched by Great Wall Motor as China’s first luxury brand dedicated to SUVs. It is expected to reveal the P8 plug-in hybrid SUV based on the brand’s first SUV model the VV7. Showing up in Frankfurt obviously gives the brand a huge opportunity to test the international waters and get evaluated by the industry on whether it is worthy of being luxury.

Both Chery and Great Wall are no strangers to the international markets. Chery has a big presence in South America, while Great Wall has had success in Eastern Europe and Russia. By exhibiting in Frankfurt, it is only a reflection of their efforts to continue to go global, something that would be cemented by successfully entering Western Europe or North American markets.

They will be exhibiting at a time when diesel is being questioned and several European countries plan to phase out traditional fuel altogether in the next few decades, and as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles looks to Chinese suitors. The Chinese themselves have raised the bar in product design and quality and think they can compete head on with European and other international brands, who are now taking Chinese brands seriously as a potential “threat.”

Europe presents both opportunities and challenges for Chinese brands and it will still take some time for one to truly gain a foothold in Western Europe. But nevertheless the Chinese are seriously preparing to enter Europe and European carmakers need to seriously think about that prospect.

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