Mercedes, BMW, and Audi make some fine vehicles, that is not without a doubt, but their pricing in China has been traditionally very high (recent drastic price cuts have remedied this situation) Mercedes engine tech always seems to be a step behind its German cousins, but styling is a step ahead. BMW have stretched their three series for 2012 and Audiâ€™s FWD layout is not the most exciting, plus they are all out of the â€˜every day manâ€™ price range.
Ash keeps telling me the Toyota Reiz is the way to go, a RWD 2.5L V6 sedate saloon that has been vastly improved as of 2010, its low cost pricing from 220,000RMB certainly does make it interesting but the Toyota brand does not encourage thoughts of daring race track victories, it screams sensible purchase and comfortable shoes.
MG used to make interesting cars, again, like Audi they were FWD cars but they had a massive enthusiast circle around them all over Europe and the Commonwealth, but MG-R went bankrupt in 2005 and started making mundane family cars for the Chinese market and tried its hand at selling cars in the UK, 19 were sold in June. Good start. The MG enthusiasts remain, but are obviously dwindling in number as they trade their own cars for other models. Talk to any MG fan and you will see a lifetime of commitment and support, but the new models are not exhilarating enough to get them on board just yet, perhaps that will change down the line, perhaps it wont. There are major brand issues with the MG brand, which comes at a cost of SAIC forcing MG-R into bankruptcy so it could pick it up for peanuts, only to receive a damaged brand that will need billions of RMB injected into it to get it â€˜road worthyâ€™ once more, perhaps SAIC should have consulted its marketing people ahead of its merger and acquisitions department before the MG-R deal.
Then there is Alfa Romeo. Talk to any car fan and they will have aspirations of owning an Alfa, talk to any Alfa owner and they will talk fondly about the terrible quality afforded to older Alfa models and laugh at random bits of plastic falling off or the never ending Oasisâ€™ of oil coming from underneath the car. Modern Alfaâ€™s are much improved, they do not seem to suffer the woeful quality of yesteryear but they do have the same driving spirit. Now Alfa Romeo is heading to China, Sergio Marchionne confirmed it at the start of production of the Fiat Viaggio in Changsha late last month, the bearded CEO announced that Alfa would become a global brand once again and will first see its launch in the USA and secondly in China. Sergio would not comment on the production of Alfa Romeo in China, but he did confirm that its coming to China, again.
Alfa Romeo were sold in China during the Nanjing-Fiat Joint Venture, they commanded top RMB for the models and sales were ultimately low, but that did not stop a rash of Alfa 166 V6 sedans taking to Chinese roads, low in number but they are a rare treat. Ash told me he once saw an Alfa rag top with Hangzhou plates in Suzhou , true commitment by that owner.
How will Alfa be placed in the Chinese market? Like all mid range Euro brands entering the Chinese market it will likely be pushed up a notch, not quite BMW but not quite the affordable luxury that Buick has become in the Chinese market, it will sit in its own stasisÂ where it will be able to command premium price for smaller models. The BMW MINI range is an excellent example, 8 years ago Chinese consumers would never pay high prices for a small car, but the MINI range introduced the concept that small can be premium too, Mercedes followed it up with the launch of the SMART range, now both SMART and MINI are common sites. Fiat attempted to follow with the launch of the 500, but Fiat suffers from a small dealership network and weak brand image when compared to MINI and Mercedes, perhaps when the dealership network reaches a critical mass then 500â€™s will become a better seller.