China Car Times previously reported that the Nissan Leaf will be produced in the city of Guangzhou as a Venucia model, although this is not unexpected news, it still makes us worried about the prospect of electric car market in China, which so far has been far behind the governmentâ€™s original plan.
In the automotive field, the Chinese government has paid great attention to two critical issues: One is the development of local brands and local R&D, it is a shame that the worldâ€™s largest car market is dominated by Volkswagen, General Motors and other western brands, while Chinese local brands can only wallow in low-end market that joint ventures disdain. The other one is electric cars, because most officials and specialists believe the EV technology gap between China and western world is smaller than the gap of conventional gasoline powered cars.
Thus, it is understandable that government is encouraging joint ventures to unveil local brands and build electric models. The encouragement means if you do not do so, to building a new plant or merely expanding in China is almost an impossible mission, let alone to establish a new joint venture. Thanks to this policy, Shanghai-GM unveiled the Baojun brand , Shanghai-VW is expected to unveil Tantus, FAW-VW has the Kaili brand in the works, Dongfeng-Nissan has already unveiled Venucia, Dongfeng Honda are working on the Ciimo nameplate, Guangzhou-Honda has already revealed and launched their first Everus model. Although these brands are currently churning out older name plated cars from the original joint venture, the ultimate goal is to make them into electric brands for the Chinese market – and possibly elsewhere.
However, electric cars attached to a JVsâ€™ local brand may make the consumers more confused. Think about this: you have owned a Nissan Qashqai or Teana, and now you go to Nissanâ€™s dealership to trade another new car. Maybe the Nissan Leaf comes up on your radar because of its environmentally friendly powertrain, unique styling and intelligent instrument panel, despite of the higher price. But will you choose a tongue-twisting brand you have never heard, called Everus? Would you invest 300,000RMB in a car from a brand with an unknown history and future? It would be a hard sell in a wealthy country, let alone a developing country where such a sum of cash would undergo months of research before a decision is made. Not all of China’s consumers are dropping mad money on top dollar brands, the 99% are looking for reliability, a future, and confidence.
The low-end product lineups of JVsâ€™ local brands will make things worse. Although government hopes JVsâ€™ local brands can develop new cars in China, rather than a direct introduction from overseas factories, most of their models are just revivals of old cars which had been out of production in China. For example, Venucia’s D50 is a facelift of the old Nissan Tiida, while Everus S1 is barely a facelift of the old Honda Fit saloon. The expensive avant-garde electric cars are under the same roof with cheap old models â€“ this should be the last thing a product planner wants to do.
Perhaps, attaching a local brand on the hood of an electric car is just to cater for government. The joint ventures do not expect to attract volumes consumers to buy electric cars, since the internal combustion engine is likely to be the main attraction for consumers over the next few years.
Electric cars are the peak of automotive industry. China should face the challenge head one, no matter how difficult it is, because no rival will help them sincerely.