Great Wall is China's Turtle in the Race to Build Global Car Brands

Compared to Flashy Rivals Like Chery and Geely, Great Wall Is Quietly but Persistently Expands Overseas Says Auto News China's Yang Jian

By Published on .

SHANGHAI ( -- Even by Chinese standards, Great Wall Motor Co. is a small automaker. But what the company has recently achieved can provide food for thought for its domestic peers seeking to enter developed markets.

Chinese passenger vehicle brands did not exist at all until the late 1990s. Within a decade, many automakers behind those brands are seeking admission to developed markets such as Western Europe and America.

Yang Jian
Yang Jian
Between 2005 and 2007, a slew of own-brand Chinese automakers including Chery Automobile Co. and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Co. and Changfeng Motor Co. displayed their vehicles at overseas auto shows.

In addition to participating in both Frankfurt and North America auto shows, Shengyang Brilliance Jinbei Automotive Co. sent its sedans for crash tests in Europe in 2006 and 2008, but the ratings they received were very low.

After recognizing the difficulty of meeting the stringent safety and emission standards of the European and American markets, most of these companies by late 2008 gave up plans to sell their products into these markets in the near future.

This year, some of them started chasing merger and acquisition opportunities as a short-cut to enter markets in the developed world. Earlier this year, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp. bid for Opel, but failed. Geely is running after Volvo Car, but has yet to make any meaningful progress.

Great Wall's approach has been different...more low key, and yet more persistent.

The company sold about 125,000 vehicles in 2008, about half of which were exported to other developing markets. But it has yet to send its products to exhibitions in developed countries.

Instead, Great Wall has focused its efforts on building and upgrading its vehicles in order to certify them for those markets.

In June 2009, it started exporting two pickups and one SUV to Australia after certifying them for the market there.

This month the company completed the year-long process of certifying four of its models for the European Union -- the Florid and Coolbear sedans, the Hover 5 SUV and the Wingle pickup. Great Wall succeeded in obtaining the EU's Whole Vehicle Type Approval for the four cars, marking the first time a domestic Chinese automaker has cleared all the regulatory hurdles to get its vehicles into the European Union market.

This year, the company also started preparations to design cars in line with U.S. safety and emission standards in a bid to certify them for the American market.

Although its vehicles are certified for the European market, Great Wall still needs to get a distribution network ready and do a lot of work on marketing before it can sell its products.

But in the race to crack western auto markets, Great Wall is well ahead of its domestic peers, due to the incremental yet solid progress it has made.

Yang Jian is the managing editor of Automotive News China, another title owned by Crain Communications, which first published this article.

Return to the Ad Age China home page here

Most Popular
In this article: