“In this business, you gotta have a tough skin.” This is what Visor.Ph Editor-in-Chief Vernon Sarne told me at last week's BMW M2 launch event.
Chief, as I fondly call him to this day (he got me to join Top Gear Philippines magazine as a cover photographer and writer back in 2010), has seen it all and has been through wars ordinary people would have waived the white flag early on. The mental and physical stress this job entails can be too much for someone who cares about his craft.
So when we here in AutoFun Philippines write about cars made in China and see the hate and vitriol in the comments section, we often wonder where all this rage is coming from.
Why are so many against China-made cars? Heck, even anything made and emanating from China?
And why do netizens condemn these cars even if they haven’t driven or touched them with a ten-foot pole?
We’re not blind to ignore what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea (when I was in elementary and high school more than 30 years ago, it was still called South China Sea, so go figure). We’ve all seen the rise and fall of POGO. We were even there when the Chery QQ turned from the budget car everyone was waiting for to the failed symbol of Chinese car manufacturing from two decades ago.
But we are talking about the China-built cars of today. It’s 2023 people, grow up! Leave the politics to the politicians and diplomacy to the diplomats. Why can’t we just discuss the merits of a car here? Noisy xenophobes in the comments sections turn off people who want to learn about cars. Many out there are curious about China-made vehicles in the same way they are curious about Japanese, Korean, European, and American brands.
Many post their anti-Chinese sentiments as if they don’t use a mobile phone or computer made in China. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.
According to tradingeconomics.com, the Philippines exported US$10.97 Billion worth of goods in 2022. Suppose we stop buying anything made in China; what if China also stopped buying anything from us? How will that affect our economy? What alternatives do our noble keyboard warriors propose?
It's the mentality that's disposable
The majority of the reasoning of people online revolves around their personal or hearsay experience about owning a China-made car from decades ago. But we bet many of them likely haven’t seen a brand new one up close or driven one.
Many conclude that since a car is made in China, it is crap, not realizing that many parts inside non-Chinese-made cars already come from China. Headlamp assemblies, computer boxes, engine parts such as pumps, bearings and machined parts, spark plugs, transmission components, plastics, and even your typical oil filter are just some Chinese-supplied items that make up your typical non-China-branded car.
The Chinese government forced Western brands to enter into joint ventures with Chinese companies before they could start selling their cars on the Mainland so that the locals could learn and adopt the Western brands' best practices and quality standards. If anything, that's foresight by their government right there. Something we seriously lack here.
To say the design and quality of these Chinese brands and their cars have dramatically improved is an understatement. We’ve talked to many auto industry executives, basically, those who have made a living selling cars, and most of them agree that vehicles made in China are nowhere near the Chinese cars of the early 2000s.
Many of them predict that cars made in China and the Chinese car brands themselves will gain a significant market share in the country in a few years. The same happened with Japanese cars in the 1960s and '70s and Korean cars in the 2000s. Why can't the Chinese do the same? Because they're Communists and are evil? The mere fact that many industry veterans from Japanese car brands are jumping ship to Chinese brands is a sign that they have faith in the latter's growth.
I’ve also driven quite a few Chinese-made cars, and I’ve been impressed by most of them. Their designs are bolder, more confident, and more creative. The quality of the materials used in the interiors is almost at par and sometimes even better than Japanese cars made in Thailand, Indonesia, or Japan itself.
The Chery Tiggo 7 Pro Hybrid I drove recently rode and felt like a European car as I weaved past traffic along NLEX. The GAC Emkoo I just handed back yesterday was one of the more exciting cars I drove, with its responsive throttle, brakes, and easy handling. The Jaecoo 8 I tested in Wuhu, China, felt reassuring, secure, and smooth. The Omoda C5, too, felt promising with its unconventional styling and minimalist interiors.
Even the first-generation Ford Territory was impressive with all its kit and heft. I have driven the Wuling Mini EV Gameboy and the Aiqar Ant, and both made me realize that their size and EV powertrain are what the majority of city dwellers will probably ever need. Even the Weltmeister W5 EV would have been good enough to drive from Quezon City to San Juan, La Union, had we not been range anxious.
I’ve also driven the GWMHaval Jolion and H6, and they both seem feature-rich and project great value for their prices. I am looking forward to trying out the Jetour Dashing to see where it stands in the hierarchy of China-built crossovers. If only looks could kill, it would have been up there, right?
Sure, some of these cars are now experiencing component failures and faults. But what car doesn’t after regular use? And if there are quality issues, that’s what warranties are for. The warranties, by the way, are reassuring too; some have three, others five, and there’s even a couple with ten for the engine. If those are not concrete signs of confidence in one’s product, I don’t know what is.
The point is that China-built cars hold promise. And in my mind, many more Chinese cars out there are already viable alternatives to the usual suspects in 2023.
Let the market decide
To be clear, we are not anti-west. Neither are we pro-Chinese cars. We, however, are pro-choice. Having an open market means brands with the best products and services will win. And the best indicator of market acceptance is sales. You only have to look at CAMPI figures to know where some Chinese car brands rank versus the traditional ones and how some models have become the darling of the crowd.
Another fact that people need to factor in before they make their sweeping generalizations is that no car or brand is perfect. In today’s global manufacturing, it is statistically impossible to have zero defects. Even our favorite Japanese, Korean, European, and American brands and their cars have shortcomings. And despite our best efforts, nothing is still perfect.
But that doesn’t mean carmakers shouldn’t strive to be better. Every brand’s aftersales services and parts supply must be worked on to elevate them to commonly expected standards. It doesn’t matter where the brand comes from; they all have had their fair share of shortcomings and failures.
They’ve all lost a customer or two at one point or another. But some have learned from their mistakes and earned their customers’ trust. If only Chinese car brands and their local distributors understand how important aftersales is in the Philippines, there would be no stopping them from taking larger chunks of market share away from the more established brands. And after the Geely debacle, they should know what to do now.
By the way, some of you will ask if this is a paid piece. The answer is no. And if you can show us official and authentic receipts that we received any advertising money from any China brand distributor or entity operating here in the Philippines before this story, we’ll gladly close shop.
With an automotive career spanning 27 years as a former touring car racer turned automotive journalist and photographer, Mikko also handled marketing and PR for two major Japanese car brands before finding peace and purpose in sharing his views about cars, driving, and mobility.