Brilliance Auto

Mainland cars struggle to win US, Europe over

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2007, 12:00am


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Brilliance China Automotive has raised its profile in Europe by being the only mainland exhibitor in the Geneva car show last week but market watchers said it would take a while for Europeans and Americans to change their negative views on China-made cars.

Despite being considered as 'one of the better carmakers in China' by observers from the show, Brilliance China may still find it difficult to sell to developed overseas markets, analysts said.

'This is because until now, there is not a made-in-China car running on the streets in the United States or Europe,' said director of Economist Intelligence Unit Graeme Maxton.

'Chery Automobile has signed a contract with Chrysler Group to build compact cars under the Chery brand and sell in the United States but that has yet to be realised.'

Eager to expand in the overseas markets amid falling margins in its home base, mainland carmakers have started joining international car shows in recent years.

However, their products underwhelmed in the previous shows, including the one in Detroit and Frankfurt last year, both of which privately owned Geely Holdings Group joined.

Market observers said they were unimpressed by the simple curve shape and poor ability to sustain impact of mainland cars. Such an impression may hamper Brilliance China's ambition to sell cars under its own brand in Europe.

The company, the first mainland exhibitor in Geneva car show's more than 70 years' history, showcased three models under the Zhonghua series, BC3, Zhonghua Zunchi M1 and Junjie M2.

An observer from the show said the Junjie model had 'good-looking cars ... but I don't trust Chinese air bags and crumple zone'.

Brilliance China, which has a joint venture with Munich-based Bayerische Motoren-Werke or BMW, has signed a dealer contract in Germany and expects the first Zhonghua car to be sold in the country this year.

Xinhua said Brilliance China also planned to export to the United States in the near future.

The company plans to sell 158,000 units to Europe over the next five years, including 27,000 units in Germany this year. It shipped 8,700 cars to Germany last year, but not under its own brand.

Mr Maxton said the prevailing views on mainland cars in Europe and the US came mainly from dealers and magazines and that consumers might think differently.

Mainland carmakers said it was normal for consumers to take a while to feel confident in using unfamiliar brands.

'Of course we can measure the dependability of a car by its selling price and the frequency of accidents but we should bear in mind that Europe has different safety standards from other countries, including China,' said executive director of Geely Automobile Holdings Lawrence Ang. He said Volkswagen's Polo brand took a long time to gain consumer confidence.