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From parades to the people, carmaker's fortunes on the rise

By LI FUSHENG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-03-11 08:52
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China FAW Group Chairman Xu Liuping promotes a Hongqi SUV at an auto show in Shanghai in 2019. CHEN YUYU/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

China FAW Group Chairman Xu Liuping has an ambition: to help get Hongqi cars, the oldest premium brand in the country, into the ranks of the world's biggest vehicle marques.

"We will be striving to achieve this goal during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period," the 58-year-old deputy to the National People's Congress said on Saturday.

Helping achieve this will be estimated deliveries of over 1 million Hongqis by 2025, the key drivers behind which are the products themselves and the service offered, according to Xu.

Last year, the carmaker sold 300,000 vehicles on the Chinese market, overtaking Japan's Lexus and the United States' Cadillac to rank fourth after the three German giants: BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It expects a 50-percent rise in sales this year.

Hongqi's performance today would have been unimaginable even four years ago. The brand, once best known for producing state limousines and parade vehicles, had not been able to find a niche in China's booming private car market in recent decades.

Xu decided to revive the marque's former glory and devised a plan to do so in January 2018, less than four months after his arrival in Northeast China's Jilin province, where FAW is based.

Many were skeptical. Some even joked that people saw Hongqi vehicles more often in TV footage and in museums than on the streets. After all, the manufacturer only had one model for the general public, less than 5,000 of which were sold in 2017, when the domestic car market saw overall sales of 28 million units.

But Xu was determined.

"FAW will mobilize the best resources, select the best suppliers and build top-class manufacturing facilities for the Hongqi revival," he said.

It started to produce a growing number of models that, unlike international brands, integrated Chinese aesthetics, such as gear sticks decorated with jade and floral patterned fabric for the interiors.

Hongqi also repositioned itself to appeal to young motorists by making sportier designs and showcasing its latest technology, including autonomous driving, at international events such as the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show.

The efforts paid off. Over 100,000 Hongqi vehicles were sold in 2019. The figure doubled in 2020 and soared to over 300,000 last year. Analysts say pride in Chinese brands also helped.

Hongqi now produces 10 sedans and SUVs, both gasoline and electric, in different segments.

"By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period, we will have reached a relatively advanced level in terms of electrification, smart connectivity and driving experience," Xu said.

He said the national development plan highlights both new energy vehicles-which include electric cars and plug-in hybrids-and digitalization, so the group is more confident.

Last year, over 3.5 million new energy vehicles were sold in China, the largest number in the world, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The association expects that figure to reach 5 million this year as demand continues to rise, especially in big cities.

A report from the China Society of Internet showed that around 3 million vehicles sold in 2020 came with internet access and some form of driving-assist, accounting for 11.8 percent of deliveries.

Xu said that new energy vehicles will account for roughly 40 percent of Hongqi's lineup by 2025, and models with driving-assist features will account for 70 percent.

He added that the brand's estimated 1 million sales in 2025 would account for half of FAW's deliveries and that the group has established joint ventures with international carmakers, including Volkswagen and Toyota.

Besides the Chinese market, Hongqi has begun to venture overseas, with its latest vehicles now available in places such as Saudi Arabia and Japan.

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