Great Wall took the motoring world largely by surprise when it unveiled the Wey brand at the Guangzhou Auto Show in November 2016. The story only really broke just before the show. Geely on the other hand chose Berlin to launch LYNK & CO a month earlier but by that time bar the name much of the story was already out. Boiled down both are attempts by two of the most successful Chinese car manufacturers to produce more upmarket models but what are their prospects and how do they differ?
Currently not all the details are known but we have seen modern attractive looking SUVs in the form of the 01 from LYNK & CO and the W01 and W02 from Wey. Both companies also have slick looking websites, but that seems to be where the similarities end.
Great Wall’s success has ridden the rise in the popularity of SUVs in China. From the days of the Hover they have consistently had one of the bestselling SUVs and in recent years the Haval H6 has been China’s bestseller. The H6 however accounted for over half of Haval’s 938,019 sales in 2016. For the larger H8 and H9 they clocked up a combined 18,975 units – an actual decline on the year before. Despite both being competitively priced, well put together cars with good quality Great Wall has failed to appeal to Chinese consumers with the larger more expensive Havals. Enter Wey marketed as a Chinese premium SUV for China.
LYNK & CO on the other hand was meant to be Geely’s way into the European and U.S. markets although surprisingly the cars are set to go on sale in China before the international foray. Launching a new brand is a costly affair but in Europe and the U.S. the Geely name is largely unknown and so it doesn’t matter which name is used the costs would be broadly the same. LYNK & CO unlike Wey is not an all-out premium brand but a mid-range proposition. Essentially Geely is Škoda, LYNK & CO is Volkswagen and Volvo is Audi if you look at the brands of the company in the same way as the VW Group.
Great Wall successfully spun Haval off as a standalone SUV brand and is now almost completely reliant on it for sales. What has happened though is a plethora of models and a Blue and Red Haval range. The Blue is supposedly aimed at younger hip buyers whereas the Red is more mainstream. In reality there is limited differentiation and too much self competition. Some years ago a former Qoros executive told me his story about an interview with Great Wall. He asked them who their target market was and they told him anyone who wants to buy an SUV, making no distinction whether that person was in the market for a Porsche Cayenne or Daihatsu Terios.
It seems that with Wey, Great Wall has learnt that the person in the market for a Cayenne doesn’t want to buy a Haval! The problem is can it persuade them that Wey is a viable option? Obviously Land Rover does manage to create a distinction between the Land Rover and Range Rover models even though Land Rovers are creeping away from their utilitarian origins to something far more upmarket. But compare the new H2S or new H6 with the Wey models and they look externally broadly the same. In fact the W01 is largely a more luxurious version of the all new H6. Maybe this is not all together surprising as they’re all penned by former BMW designer Pierre Leclercq, who is now Haval’s design director. While the branding may be different if the look is not distinctive then the brand is going to face an uphill struggle.
Despite the Wey name having already been registered by the company in Australia Great Wall claim the brand is only for China. Do Chinese consumers want to buy an upmarket Chinese car? Ask Red Flag and the answer is no, the H7 struggles to sell around 2,000 a year despite being a half decent attempt.
LYNK & CO is all about being fresh and trendy – just look at the spelling of link and use of that ampersand instead of and! A glance at the website shows them selling a lifestyle rather than just a car. You purchase, lease or hire the car online, it is picked up and dropped off for servicing and they give you a replacement car and there is an inbuilt car sharing scheme where you can rent out your car when you’re not using it. This will obviously appeal to young buyers in China but will it work in Europe or the U.S.? Part of Daewoo’s success in its entry to the UK market was built on its innovative approach to sales. The company owned all the dealers, and there were fixed prices and three years free servicing. They were even selling the cars at supermarkets! Obviously an innovative sales method can work but are European new car purchasers, who tend to be significantly older than those in China, going to want to buy a car on the internet?
Named after founder Wei Jianjun, Wey looks little more than a vanity project but despite the odds not looking good we have learnt not to bet against Wei and his ideas. LYNK & CO with its engineered in Sweden built in China model seems to be an attractive proposition. With the backing of the Volvo dealer chain in Europe and the U.S. it seems a winning combination. The problem is, are the buyers trendy enough? Developed countries are showing falling numbers of young people learning to drive. Back in the 1990s over half of all UK males aged 17-20 had a license, today it’s down to a third. While the U.S. showed greater numbers the 69 percent of 19-year olds with licenses belies that in 1983 it was 87 percent. Young people are likely to be the main users of car sharing but if they can’t drive it’s a problem.