There is no doubt I am somewhat obsessed with Shanghai GM Wuling. Ever since I visited it back in 2001 (the first foreign journalist to do so) I have followed it with great interest. Let’s face it; investing in Wuling will go down in history as one of General Motors best strategic moves. GM has Phil Murtaugh to thank for that. He negotiated the deal with Wuling’s then-president Shen Yang.
When Ray Bierzynski, the former head of electrification strategy for GM China, was sent to Wuling to become an EVP, I speculated that GM was going to produce electric vehicles at SGMW. It may still, but it seems that first GM plans to use Wuling to rule the minivan market in the developing world. I wrote about that several times in late 2012. The latest announcement from SGMW only confirms that.
The JV between SAIC, GM, and Wuling just launched an upgraded version of its best-selling vehicle, the Hong Guang. Called the Hong Guang S, the new van is priced at 61,800 RMB for the 1.2L engine version and 65,800 RMB for the 1.5L engine version. The little seven-seater is squarely aimed at China’s burgeoning class of private businessmen who need a car they can use for the family and for business. Or as the Chinese press release says (they are always more fun than the English-language ones), change “help business, help family” to “help family, help business.”
In a savvy marketing move, rather than launch the Hong Guang S in Tier One cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, GM launched it in two second-tier cities at opposite ends of the country – Kunming in the southwest China province of Kunming and Harbin, in the northeast China province of Heilongjiang. Those cities will have thriving small private business sectors, the target market for the Hong Guang S.
In a nod to the growing sophistication of Chinese consumers in all cities, not just coastal areas, GM touted the “refined, spacious” interior of the Hong Guang S compared to its poorer cousin, the Hong Guang. In a recognition that consumers want choices even in a minivan, the Hong Guang S is offered in (don’t you love these names?) Desert Gold, Sandy Gold, Coral Red, Ocean Blue, Storm Gray, Earth Brown, Twinkling Silver, and Candy White.
The website for SGMW makes it clear the family is first. The Hong Guang S features a young family of three standing on the side. Click through the various links for outward and interior appearance, the engine and the specs. The interior is shown against the backdrop of an upscale stylish apartment. For the specs proving the roominess, the family is shown by a tent – great for the outdoors! This may not be the vehicle for the Shanghai sophisticate (would it even be allowed on the highways in Shanghai, where some smaller-engine vehicles are restricted?), but for upwardly-mobile young families in those neidi (interior) cities, the Hong Guang S is the bees knees.
The regular old Hong Guang, which is the best selling minivan in China, has sold nearly 750,000 units since its launch a few years ago. With the addition of the larger and roomier Hong Guang S model, GM is aiming for more than one million a year on the platform. Whew, that’s a lot of little vans (or Multi-purpose vehicles, as the HG is called. But let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a minivan, or “compact commercial vehicle” as one older press release referred to it.).
The Hong Guang S will be badged Wuling in China. But, the regular old Hong Guang is sold as a Chevy Enjoy in India. I wonder if the Hong Guang S will also be sold in India?
Launched in May of this year in India, the Chevy Enjoy is available with a gasoline or turbo diesel engine! According to IndianCarsBikes.com, the Hong Guang was the third best-selling vehicle in the world in February of this year. That may be true. In any case, according to the GM China spokesperson, the regular old Hong Guang sold 217,000 units in China in the first six months of 2013, taking 1/3 market share. In India, from the launch in May through July 21 6,651 units were sold.
GM is certainly getting a lot of use out of that platform. SGMW’s Baojun brand will launch its own version of the Hong Guang in 2014, said the spokesperson. I wonder how SGMW will position it? Should be less expensive than the Hong Guang or Hong Guang S? That’s pretty cheap…. Let’s conjecture: 35,000 RMB to 42,000 RMB. Can’t wait until the Baojun version launches to see if I’m right.
What does this have to do with electric vehicles, you might ask? Well, this is my blog where, as I say, I can pontificate about whatever I chose.
I did ask the GM China spokesperson if SGMW planned to sell the Hong Guang S as an electric vehicle. “Currently there is no such plan,” was the reply. At least that leaves the door open….
Article by Alysha Webb, a freelance automotive journalist and founder of ChinaEV Blog.