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Can China’s Chery crack the European market at the Frankfurt auto show?

 | September 11, 2017

Chery Automotive is one of China's most successful homegrown carmakers and since 1997 has been slowly building up to launching its first global car.

CheryIts global head of design, James Hope, talks about the challenges of breaking into the US and Europe and explains why, even though there are already plenty of SUVs on the road, drivers will still be impressed by Chery’s first global car.

“In my opinion, Europe is the toughest market to crack,” explains James Hope, Chery Automobile’s Executive Director for Design. “Europeans tend to characteristically buy from their home market. They’re passionate about their heritage and it’s a really tough market.”

Indeed traditionally, Germans buy VW, the French buy Renault and the Italians stick to Fiat and Alfa Romeo. And yet, Chery Automobiles, one of China’s leading homegrown brands is aiming to break into this market and will be doing so at the Frankfurt motor show of all places. “Yes, at the heart of the German car industry. But we’re putting a stake in the ground,” he says.

That stake will be in the form of a compact SUV, meaning it will be lining up alongside a host of other similarly rugged models from the likes of Audi and VW as well as Nissan, Ford, Skoda and Toyota. But as Hope points out, the SUV is quickly becoming a byword for car. “Everything is SUV. The SUV is the growing trend in every market globally,” he says.

An emotional approach

And even with such massive competition, Hope is certain the car will turn heads, make a connection and bring something new to the sector. This is partly because of its design, which Hope describes as navigating between the two current major design trends. “[With] the Teutonic approach favored by German mass market brands and Land Rover, the lines are functional,” he explains. We want to build up the brand image and create different vehicles for different consumers but through a more emotional approach.”

The company has chosen this approach because rather than looking west for inspiration — something most major Chinese carmakers are doing for their SUV styling cues — Chery has looked east, to what is working in its home country, a country so vast and so populous that every major city and province has its own, often completely contradictory attitudes towards design, form, features and function. “We want to zag where [other Chinese OEMs] zig and vice versa,” he says.

Taking the emotional route has paid dividends for the likes of Kia and Hyundai, but both South Korean firms have had to back up their aesthetics with reliability, something that has taken them many years and many extended warranties to achieve.

But here, Chery has an ace up its sleeve. Since its inception in 1997, its goal has been to build cars to global, rather than local, quality and equipment standards. And the new car, when unveiled in Frankfurt will be full of parts and systems sourced from the world’s best suppliers such as Bosch and Continental. The four-wheel drive system will be courtesy of BorgWarner and the transmission is from Valeo and Getag.

“We are leaving nothing to chance to ensure our new model line is engineered to meet and even exceed expectations,” said He Xiaoqing, the company’s head of marketing and sales on the subject of quality.

But even with the right design and the right suppliers, the challenges in building a truly ‘global’ car are immense. For example, it wasn’t until 1998 and the launch of the Focus, that Ford truly hit upon the winning formula.

Tailored elements

Hope knows this better than most, as he was a designer at Ford at the time. That experience, plus a comprehensive understanding of different tastes and drivers in different markets — though Chery isn’t in North America or the EU, its cars are already on sale in 65 countries around the globe — is what will shape the car’s ‘content’ for each market.

“We will use series differentiation so you have a model that retains its [global standard] chassis and powertrain but materials, fabrics, finishes and content will be specific to each market,” he explains.

So, for instance dark colors and finishes on vehicles aimed at South America and white or near white interiors and larger wheels for China. And the same formula can be applied to Europe with soft touch plastics, premium materials for seats and roof liners and an emphasis on creature comforts and connectivity.

Adding content or removing content is, in Hope’s words, one of the best and most strategic ways of “Giving a car a feel that is more specific to each target consumer. You get one chance for a first impression but we’re confident we have the design, the engaine and the Platform that will let us come into Frankfurt and make a good impression.”


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