So…are the Chinese carmakers there yet?

In April 2019, longtime Mitsubishi Motors Philippines executive Froilan Dytianquin wrote a column for Visor with this title: “Are the Chinese carmakers there yet?” In this article, he said:

“With China now having the largest automotive market on the planet, it is not surprising that a lot of automotive manufacturers are rushing to the country to get a piece of the action. In exchange for the chance to do business there, they have no choice but to share their expertise in design, technology, performance, safety and quality with existing domestic players. Now, many of these Chinese car companies are taking the next step toward motor vehicle evolution. They are now leading the way in the development of electric vehicles, self-driving rides and even flying cars. Chinese automakers have moved on from their reverse-engineering days, and are now better equipped to match or even exceed the specifications of popular brands.”

As Dytianquin had long been a pillar within the second-biggest car brand—Japanese brand, if I may stress—in the Philippine market, it was difficult to imagine him saying these things publicly. But then, of course the industry would also learn of his move to a Chinese brand (Geely) more than four years ago (he has recently transferred to Chery, another Chinese marque). So obviously, his statements seemed self-serving. I am certain he would not dare declare such sentiments had he been employed by a Japanese company.

Now, compare Dytianquin’s pronouncements with those of current Toyota Motor Philippines president Atsuhiro Okamoto when asked to comment on Chinese cars for an article—“‘Chinese cars a threat but still not good enough”—that appeared two weeks ago on Visor:

“They are stylish, both inside and out. And they are priced really cheap. Their products are even priced to compete with other vehicles belonging to categories that are one notch higher. Yes, they are a big threat. They look nice, but the handling and the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) are still not good enough. But the buyers, they don’t care. They just want low pricing and attractive design.”

See the stark difference? One is profusely positive and generously optimistic; the other is reservedly candid and reluctantly guarded. Like his Filipino rival, Okamoto could easily be suspected of being his firm’s mouthpiece. Which executive do you believe?

To be honest, I see nuggets of truth in each one’s statements. Both have valid points regardless of their affiliations and loyalties. But to our original question: Are the Chinese carmakers there yet? Let me quote myself from a previous article of mine—“The Chinese are coming, and they’re not going after you and me”—also written for Visor:

“For many of us (especially those 35 years old and above), our perception of Chinese cars will probably no longer change. No matter how much they improve with the passing of time, we’ve already made up our minds—that they suck and that only losers will buy them.”

I recalled my father as I wrote this. You see, when I helped him purchase his very first car in 2008, I literally begged him to consider getting either a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, which, to my mind, were the best value-for-money cars that he could buy. But no, he insisted on a Ford Mustang. In fact, I think he would have flatly rejected my offer even if I paid for the vehicle (not that I could). Anything but a Japanese car.

You know why? Because in his time, Japanese cars were the Korean cars of the 1990s and the Chinese cars of the 2000s. No amount of lectures from me could convince him that the best cars in the world were already manufactured by the Japanese. No, sir: As far as my father was concerned, the greatest cars would forever be made by the Americans.

So…to those who are thinking of getting a Chinese car right now, I have three pieces of advice for you. First, shed your subjective biases (if you can). Second, test-drive the vehicle you’re eyeing yourself instead of just believing paid influencers. And third, ask current owners of Chinese cars (specifically those who have owned one for at least four years).

May you find the automobile that will genuinely make you happy, whether it’s Chinese, Korean or Japanese (or maybe even American).

FILL YOUR TANK: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)

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