A quick glance at the local automotive industry is enough to tell you that Chinese car manufacturers have started to come in. Fueled by excess factory supply in the Mainland, agreeable trade agreements with the Philippines, and the increased mobility requirements of Filipinos, they’ve started to challenge more mainstream brands from Japan, Korea, and the US.
The past three years may not have been the first time for them to enter the Philippine market, but because their products are better designed and engineered than ever, they now have the ingredients for success. Moreover, these Chinese brands have moved away from mom-and-pop operations, and are now backed up by big players in the local automotive scene. All told, they’re here to stay.
Here’s a list of seven Chinese brands that have emerged to be strong contenders in the local automotive scene in the last three years (arranged in alphabetical order).
Changan is one of China’s biggest automotive manufacturers. In 2019 alone, they managed to churn out 1.3 million vehicles. Their name is a combination of two characters, “Chang” and “An.” Put together, it means “Lasting Safety.” Throughout their more than 37 years of vehicle manufacturing, they’ve put together affordable, yet value-laden cars. While they have joint-ventures with both Mazda and Ford, they spend five percent of their annual sales revenue just on R&D. True enough, their V-shaped logo—meant to embody “victory” and “value”—proved its worth by being highly ranked by the J.D. Power China Initial Quality Study (IQS).
Locally, Changan switched hands a couple of times before ending up with Changan Motor Philippines, a sister company of Hyundai’s formidable Philippine distributor, Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. or HARI. With Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo at the helm, they’ve made strides with their five-year/150,000-kilometer warranty and more than 39 dealerships and sales outlets nationwide.
Unknown to many, Chery is the first automotive brand to be exported from China. Suffice to say, things didn’t turn out as they expected. Marred with quality issues, they learned that they needed to step up their game. While the brand was founded in 1997, it quickly learned the ropes. It established a holistic technical and product R&D system, and hired global talents. They even invested in their own powertrain development and rationalized their platform development. Today, they export more units than MG, JAC, and Brilliance Auto combined (the next three biggest exporters), and that doesn’t even count their joint venture with Jaguar Land Rover.
Under the stewardship of United Asia Automotive Group or UAAGI, Chery hopes to become one of the top automotive brands in the Philippines. Aside from offering an industry-leading 10-year / 1-million- kilometer engine warranty on top of the usual five-year general warranty, Chery is also throwing in three years of free PMS too. Beyond sales and aftersales effort, UAAGI President Rommel Sytin has also invested heavily in branding with their own bespoke smartphone app. They are also the only ones who openly support both television stars and sports—two things Filipinos love as much as cars.
A fairly young automotive company, GAC was founded in 2008. But since then, they’ve grown very fast. Now the sixth largest Chinese carmaker, they boast of having the most joint-venture partners—Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Jeep. This enabled them to integrate exceptional quality in their vehicles, scoring them a five-star safety rating across all their vehicles—the first Chinese carmaker to do so. Beyond safety, they are the first to embrace Chinese craftsmanship as world-class with their “Go And Change” campaign. According to them, it goes beyond providing cars that are of value. It’s all about making vehicles which make life easier and driving joyful.
Locally, GAC appointed Legado Motors, Inc. in 2018 as their exclusive distributor. The brand may have started slow, but their pace has picked up since then. Already proving their vehicles’ durability and reliability in numerous local endurance races, they also aim to grow their sales and open more showrooms in the next couple of years.
A privately-owned automotive group headquartered in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, Geely made headlines when it acquired as Volvo in 2010. It was a big deal, after all, they were known mostly for small cars and refrigerator parts. Now, their chairman believes their path to success lies in upgrading the perception of Chinese-branded cars. Today, Geely’s “circle of friends” include not just Volvo, but Lotus as well. They are also the single biggest shareholder in Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company.
Geely’s quick rise to global stardom no doubt piqued the interest of Sojitz Corporation, a “sogo shosha” or a general trading company which also happened to be a former shareholder in Mitsubishi Motors Philippines. In 2019, they launched the Coolray small SUV which has since become the bestselling subcompact SUV. They also currently are one of the bestselling car brands locally with ambitions to break into the top five in the next few years. World-class products aside, their meteoric rise is also fueled by their dealer partners all of whom are industry veterans such as the Yuchengo Group, ANC, Gateway, and Autohub.
A wholly-owned vision of Changan, Kaicene (pronounced as Kai-chen) specializes in vans, commercial vehicles, and light trucks. The name is a combination of “a song of triumph” and “bright future” which represents a fusion of the two ideals this company aspires for.
This brand came into the country in 2020 when Berjaya Auto Asia renamed their vehicles to Kaicene after Changan awarded the distributorship of its passenger cars and SUVs to Changan Motor Philippines. Currently, they have three models dedicated to people, business, and logistics transportation—the Honor S, Star Truck, and X5 truck.
The last two brands in this list have a shared history in that they are both owned by the same parent in China, SAIC Motors. They also both happen to have a British heritage, a product of SAIC Motors acquiring them in the 2000s.
The Maxus brand itself is relatively new, established in 2011. However, they trace its roots to Leyland Motors, a British brand that dates back all the way to 1896. Originally named after a line of commercial vans, the LDV Maxus, it was turned into SAIC Motors’ commercial vehicle brand. Today, Maxus is marketing itself as “a Chinese brand with English tradition.” Its logo—a combination of three triangles represents the brand’s pillars of technology, confidence, and progress.
In 2019, Maxus launched in the Philippines under AC Motors, a subsidiary of Ayala Corporation. They said that as Filipino automotive buyers have increasingly gravitated towards light commercial vehicles, they aim to offer vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs, which offer greater utility and flexibility to accommodate a wide range of business and lifestyle needs, and improved comfort and drivability. It became the sixth automotive brand in Ayala’s stable joining Honda, Isuzu, KTM, Kia, and Volkswagen.
Morris Garages or MG is a British brand established in 1924. Best known for their two-seater sportscars, it went through several owners. It was about to fade into history but was rescued in 2005 by the Nanjing Automobile Group. Three years later, SAIC Motors merged with Nanjing Automobile Group, and acquired the MG brand as well. SAIC says MG now means “My Glamour”—a clear sign of them trying to appeal to the Chinese buyer. However, they haven’t forgotten about MG’s roots. Realizing that youthful design and advanced technology are core MG values, they’ve kept a design center in the UK supplemented by other centers in the USA and China.
MG’s strong sense of design and identity prompted The Covenant Car Company, Inc. (TCCCI) to acquire the distributorship in 2018—the first among the brands in this list. The same group that distributes Chevrolet then instituted a very comprehensive brand introduction and awareness strategy. Their efforts paid off handsomely. In 2019, they managed to break into the country’s Top 10 bestselling car brands, while in 2021, they hit the 10,000-unit sales milestone.