Tag Archives: volvo

Can Chinese Luxury Cars Catch On In America?

Recent Interest By Chinese Automakers In Established Brands Like Volvo, Saab Show Their Global Ambitions; But Will Western Consumers Choose To “Drive Chinese”?

Can BYD crack the American luxury car market? Only time will tell.

Can BYD crack the American luxury car market? Only time will tell.

With well-known auto brands like Sweden’s Volvo and Saab up for sale, Chinese brands Geely, Beijing Automotive and FAW — relative unknowns in the global car market — have been in the news as possible suitors. It is no secret that Chinese automakers have their sights set on the export market, and want to see their vehicles gain popularity on lucrative markets like North America. Here, though, is the largest opportunity as well as the most significant challenge faced by Chinese car brands, a bit of a catch-22: while China is the world’s largest auto market — owing, naturally, to its vast population — Chinese car companies need to develop their luxury fleets and export more in order to turn a substantial profit, but for higher-priced vehicles, Chinese consumers virtually always choose foreign-made automobiles, and Chinese brands are almost completely unknown by luxury car buyers abroad.

At the same time, Chinese carmakers must come up against biases about the perceived quality of their products — fostered, perhaps in a large proportion, by the fact that Chinese brands have absolutely no brand equity abroad, since:

1.) most of these companies are only a few years old, and

2.) reports about Chinese-made vehicles tend to be on the sensationalist side and focus on a quality gap or on perceived “counterfeiting” of car models. While many of the problems faced by Chinese carmakers abroad boil down to sloppy or simply “bad” PR, it is, in some ways, understandable that non-Chinese car buyers know little about Chinese car companies — because many Chinese car buyers don’t know much about them either. Quite simply, they need to work harder to differentiate themselves, pin down strong brand messaging, and really push hard to ensure they conform to all safety and emissions standards — or exceed them.

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Geely Makes Only “Concrete” Bid To Purchase Volvo

Chinese Automaker Looking For More Global Reach As It Bids For Ailing Swedish Brand

Volvo's purchase by Geely has been rumored for months. So far, according to a Swedish newspaper, Geely's bid is the only "concrete" one to date. Image © rumerz.com

Volvo's purchase by Geely has been rumored for months. So far, according to a Swedish newspaper, Geely's bid is the only "concrete" one to date. Image © rumerz.com

China Daily cites unverified reports today that China’s Geely Automotive has made the only “concrete” bid for the ailing Swedish automaker Volvo. If the reports by an unnamed Swedish newspaper prove correct, a successful bid for Volvo could mean the domestic Chinese automaker could be one (large) step closer to developing into a truly global brand, achieving its ambitions to produce luxury vehicles alongside the budget models that have made it popular in mainland China. However, since most major Chinese brands lack practical experience managing foreign workforces or doing business in developed automotive markets like Europe and the US, any potential acquisition by Geely would be either a distant possibility or simply unfeasible from the get-go. As these reports are, still, unverified, they have been whispered about before — however, we still have to take a wait-and-see attitude to this developing story.

Li Fangfang, who writes often on the automotive industry and particularly the way that domestic Chinese automakers are using the global economic crisis as a sort of springboard for their nascent brands, points out that Volvo’s potential sale could present unique opportunities but also serious challenges for Geely:

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Smooth Drive For Luxury Carmakers In China

Demand Continues To Grow In First- And Second-Tier Cities, As More Individuals Purchase First Automobile

China surpassed the United States as the world's biggest auto market for the first half of 2009 after June sales soared 36.5 percent from a year earlier (© Washington Post)

China surpassed the United States as the world's biggest auto market for the first half of 2009 after June sales soared 36.5 percent from a year earlier (© Washington Post)

Luxury automakers have been enthusiastic about the potential of the Chinese market for years, as the middle class began its rapid growth and more middle class individuals began to think about purchasing their first cars while wealthier individuals started “trading up” or buying their second or third vehicle. In recent months, as demand for higher-end automobiles shrank in developed markets, automakers have increasingly relied upon growth in the Chinese mainland to tide them over until higher profits started to show again in other areas. As growth there continues to lag, the Chinese market is increasingly looking like the true engine of sales for the short- to medium-term. Sensing this, the shift in automakers’ collective consciousness has turned distinctly eastward.

The Chinese market was, until recently, a blank slate for luxury carmakers. Until well into the 1990s, personal automobiles were still the domain of wealthy or powerful individuals, as China’s middle class was negligible in size. Through the post-WTO years, however, automobile segments from budget to luxury have seen strong growth, particularly in urban centers, where cars are both a luxury (as most megacities have relatively good, albeit crowded, public transportation) and a status symbol. Today, China Daily features an article about how steady growth of car ownership — especially higher-end cars — should buoy most luxury automakers for the time being, granted they retool their marketing and their product offerings for the mainland market:

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