Same again? Not likely

  • Changan Alsvin front Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Changan Alsvin rear Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Chery electric car - engine bay. Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Chery J2 Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Chery J3 Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Chery Z5 front Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Chery Z5 rear Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Tata Manza Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Tata Manza side Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Tata Manza rear Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
  • Tata Manza interior Popular Mechanics - Anthony Doman
Date:9 November 2011 Author: Anthony Doman Tags:, , , , ,

This year's Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS to its friends) is history. With the benefit of some time for reflection, it's clear that – besides the usual glitz, glamour and gonzo goings-on – the show also hinted strongly that we are seeing a shifting of the sands.

The frontline events during the Media Days of JIMS were almost entirely about the first-tier manufacturers. This is motoring’s Establishment – mainly Europeans and the Americans. (Even if, these days, some of the Establishment are owned by Far Eastern paymasters.)

The less ballyhooed events moved to a different part of the world. To a different part of Nasrec to be specific: the world of Geely, Changan and Tata. Will it be the same, next time around? I wonder.

Fact is, a manufacturer such as India’s Tata is a huge player on the international stage. Not simply a motor manufacturer, Tata is involved in a range of activities from steel to telecommunications. And it has ironically become, as The Economist reported recently, the UK’s biggest industrial concern. Established in the UK since the early 1900s in the realm of financial services, Tata – as motorheads should know – also owns Jaguar Land Rover, and not long ago took control of what once was British Steel.

So, don’t bank on the Indians being shunted out to a distant outpost of JIMS when the show comes around again in two years’ time. The cars, I believe, are still not quite there in terms of looks when it comes to the South African market. But Tata is catching up fast in the areas of specification, quality and service. Certainly in commercial vehicles – from LCVs to ultra-heavies – Tata competes strongly against the rest.

Geely? Well, although its own brand may not be regarded as premium in Western minds, this Chinese company owns Volvo. Next door to Geely’s stand at JIMS, Changan styled itself China’s biggest local exporter. The mildly comical half-a-loaf Chana pick-ups may have been the face of Changan in this country in the past, but the Alsvin compact car the company had on display makes an impressive statement.
Another Chinese, Chery, (China’s biggest exporter, with more than 100 000 units – 20 per cent of total production exported eight months into the year) was located in one of the Big Boys’ halls.

We’ve come to expect Chinese cars that are either thinly disguised clones of Japanese makes, or combinations of a couple of makes, but they’ve been pumping big money into R&D lately. Chery has already set up three research and development facilities in China – Anhui, Beijing and Shanghai – as well as R&D operations overseas in Japan, Italy and Australia. Changan has 9 R&D centres situated in five different countries across the world.

Evidence of the intentions was clear to see in an exciting sports car concept and an EV concept from Chery, as well as in the Geely compacts and the Alsvin hatch from Changan that will be launched next year at under R120 000.

New models on show looked distinctly more refined than their predecessors. Pricing should be keen, but reliability and back-up are critical. We're in for some interesting times.

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