Three Takeaways From The Guangzhou Auto Show In China, The World’s Largest Auto Market

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The Zinoro 1E electric sedan, a product of a joint venture between German automaker BMW and China's Brilliance Auto.

The three-day annual auto show in Guangzou, China’s third-largest city located on the country's southern coast, kicked off Thursday, and so far it looks like the show is all about what the big foreign brands have brought to the market, as well as the newset and most costly domestically made full-sized SUV from one of China’s most-watched privately held automakers.

This isn’t China’s premier annual auto expo – that one takes place in the spring in Shanghai – but it does offer a glimpse into what the local manufacturers are up to without as much of the bling and showcasing you see at larger shows.

Here’s what Nomura Equity Research analysts Benjamin Lo and Joseph Wong said about the Guangzhou show this year:

“We observed that mass-market foreign brands (Japanese in particular), German luxury brands, and the more well-known domestic brands (Great Wall and BYD), attracted larger crowds. SUVs are still popular, but there is a lack of new model launches or new energy vehicles, generally speaking, as we believe most automakers already show-cased such vehicles at the bigger Shanghai auto show held earlier in April.”

Here are the three main takeaways from China’s lesser annual auto show.

#1.) Great Wall Motors took the limelight from other Chinese brands.

Great Wall doesn’t appear on the list of China’s top automakers, but the privately held company headed by Chinese billionaire Wei Jianjun is one to keep an eye on as China’s auto industry matures and expands globally.

The Baoding, Hebei-based company brought only one car to the show, the Haval H8, the latest iteration of the H-Series line of SUVs, underscoring how much Great Wall is putting behind its new full sized SUV that’s ambitiously aimed at taking market share from foreign brands. Starting at about $33,000 the H8 is the highest-priced Chinese-branded SUV on the market, comparable to the VW Tiguan and the Honda CRV.

Despite only showing one new model, Great Wall was one of the bigger crowd-drawers among the Chinese manufacturers. Geely, which owns AB Volvo (STO:VOLV-A), didn’t attract many eyes, probably because for some reason it didn’t have its upcoming offer on display: the EX8 SUV.  

Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (GAC) was present with its upcoming Concept V compact SUV it’s developing with the help of Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (TYO:7267). GAC’s own brand, the Trumpchi (which showed up on the periphery of the Detroit auto show in January) has done relatively well this year with its GS5 SUV, selling 49,000 units in the first 10 months of this year. The company says it wants to sell a million of its own cars (sans help from foreign brands) annually by 2020. Up to 30 GAC models are in the works in a bid to achieve that goal.

#2.) Foreign mass-market brands dominated.

Chinese consumers still flock to foreign brands if they can afford to, so it’s no surprise the big global brands attracted the most local gawkers, considering how much floor space they took up at the show.

The Japanese automakers were hit hard by the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands near Taiwan a year ago, which led to months-long sales-battering Chinese boycotts of Japanese brands. But the Japanese “Big 3” – Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE:TM), Honda and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (TYO:7201) – have pretty much regained their pre-boycott grooves if the crowds at their pavilions are any indication. Volkswagen AG (FRA:VOW), China’s No. 1 foreign brand, and its luxury Audi AG (FRA:NSU) were also prominently displayed and trafficked by show-goers. Jaguar Land Rover, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (FRA:BMW) and Mercedes-Benz all attracted the most people, according to Nomura.

Of the U.S. automakers, only Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) had any significant presence. Ford is playing catch-up in China with major investments there while General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) remains the dominate American player in the market with a dozen joint ventures in China.

#3.) Fewer new models and fewer green models.

Overall not much new is on display at the show. Unlike the Shanghai and Frankfurt shows earlier this year, hybrids and electrics weren’t all over the place, suggesting automakers showing at Guangzhou were looking at more fundamental market development by simply arriving with their most popular current brands.

One noteworthy exception: the Zinoro 1E, an electric vehicle made under a joint venture between Brilliance Auto, one of China’s “Big 10” automakers, and BMW. Sales of the 1E crossover could be bolstered by the expected introduction of EV incentives by local governments as China seeks to reduce air pollution in its major centers.

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