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Why the hate? 4 reasons some Filipinos look down on Chinese cars

VJ Bacungan · May 26, 2023 10:45 AM

Why the hate? 4 reasons some Filipinos look down on Chinese cars 01

A decade ago, if you told us that Chinese car brands would be among the top 10 sellers in the Philippines, we’d tell you to get lost.

But the latest data from the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. has proven just that – Geely and Foton were 9th and 10th, respectively, in terms of units sold locally in 2022.

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This is all the more notable given that Geely only started operations locally in September 2019, while Foton had been notorious for producing cheap but questionable-quality passenger cars (cue the old Toplander sport-utility vehicle).

But there’s no denying it now: Chinese car brands are on the rise in the Philippines, using the proven strategy of undercutting established car marques with lower prices and more tech features as standard equipment.

And yet, a good number of Filipinos remain hostile to these machines. We take a look at where all the hate comes from.

'After 5 years, tapon na 'yan!'

mg gt sport exterior

Modern Chinese cars like the MG GT feel just as well-made as their Japanese counterparts. PHOTO BY PATRICK MALICSI.

Bulok ‘yan! Sirain! [They’re crap! And they’re prone to breakdowns!]”

These are generally the standard brickbats of Chinese car haters, even today. But it’s not as if they have no basis.

Early Chinese cars promised so much at such attractive prices, but severely underdelivered. For instance, the Chery QQ hatchback was designed to take on the likes of the first-generation Kia Picanto.

Unfortunately, the QQ was as well-made as a house of cards and had an interior with a stench that could induce hallucinations. Combined with the dreadful aftersales, many owners vowed never to buy another Chinese car ever again.

But in a rather extreme case of turning over a new leaf, Chery now offers the most extensive general warranty in the Philippine market – 6 years with unlimited mileage.

chery factory

Chery's humungous assembly plant in China is largely run by robots to ensure more efficiency and better build quality. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID.

And as AutoFun Philippines content head Mikko David discovered on his trip to China, Chery has one of the most sophisticated manufacturing plants in the world.

As a result, the latest Chinese cars, such as the MG GT and GAC Empow, now feel as well-built (and smell just as nice) as their Japanese rivals. Perhaps over 20 years of continuous development have finally paid off.

'Gaya-gaya lang itsura'

geely coolray sport exterior

The Geely Coolray is a subcompact crossover that looked like nothing that came before. PHOTO BY VJ BACUNGAN.

Buying an early Chinese car may have saved you money, but also left you open to a famous line from the late Cherie Gil in the 1985 film Bituing Walang Ningning.

Those who remember the old Chery Tiggo would recall that it looked like a lightly edited version of the second-generation Toyota RAV4. Meanwhile, the Foton View was an unashamed photocopy of the Toyota Hiace.

Thankfully, Chinese carmakers have found some styling originality, largely by hiring Western designers. Geely’s styling head, Peter Hobury, spent three decades at Volvo before Geely bought the Swedish car firm.

jetour dashing

A striking face and pop-out door handles come standard with the Jetour Dashing. Could you have imagined something like this from China a decade ago? PHOTO BY VJ BACUNGAN.

That’s partly why the Coolray was such a hit locally – it injected some pizazz in the rather dull subcompact crossover segment, which had the rather staid-looking, second-generation Honda HR-V as its most notable model.

In addition, cars like the Jetour Dashing crossover look absolutely nothing like any of its rivals, often turning more heads than mainstream Japanese models.

'Mas OK pa rin Japan!'

jetour dashing infotainment

The Jetour Dashing's 12.8-inch touchscreen handles all infotainment, climate control and camera functions. PHOTO BY VJ BACUNGAN.

Even we’ll be honest here – this was true a decade ago.

Apart from not being particularly well-made, Chinese cars of yore had rather spartan cabins that offered nothing to entice buyers out of more expensive and more sophisticated cars from Toyota, Honda and Kia.

byd dolphin exterior

The BYD Dolphin EV not only looks original and futuristic but also features one of the most advanced battery packs in the world. PHOTO BY VJ BACUNGAN.

But step inside a brand-new MG, Geely, GAC, or Chery, and you’ll find these cars are loaded and bang up to date with stuff that even Japanese carmakers haven’t bothered putting in.

And Chinese carmakers have a serious ace up their sleeve – electric vehicles (EV). That’s because China is at the forefront of EV development, especially with the likes of BYD.

This time, Japanese rivals seem to be on the back foot.

'Walang piyesa!'

jetour x70 sport exterior

Jetour is stockpiling parts for all its models, including the X70 Sport crossover. PHOTO BY VJ BACUNGAN.

This issue was valid in the past and, to a certain extent, remains valid until today.

Even owners of new Chinese cars have to wait as long as six months to replace defective parts or address warranty claims. And it’s not as if you can buy parts for your Geely Okavango at an auto-supply shop around the corner.

But Chinese car brands are clamping down hard on this, with Jetour stockpiling parts to support its 6-year/unlimited mileage warranty.

Only time will tell if these efforts will lead to a Chinese car that’s as easy to repair as a Toyota.

Emerging market leader?

geely okavango exterior

The seven-seater Okavango is one of Geely's strongest sellers in the Philippines. PHOTO BY PATRICK MALICSI 

And let’s not forget – when Japan started exporting cars in the 1960s when the United States and the UK dominated the global car industry, everyone thought the "Land of the Rising Sun" would fail miserably. 

This pessimistic sentiment carried on when South Korea started selling Hyundais, Kias, and Daewoos worldwide in the 1970s.

Nowadays, we can’t imagine our car-buying experience without these established Asian brands. Even Astara's Managing Director of Southern Europe and the Philippines, Jorge Belzunce, admitted that having a China brand in one's distributorship portfolio made business sense. "Today, if you ask us if we should have a Chinese brand, we would say you'd be stupid not to," said Belzunce in a casual conversation. Astara is the new distributor for GAC vehicles in the country.

Given China’s industrial and technological might, could it be the market-shaking upstart that Japan and Korea once were? And, West Philippine Sea and POGO issues aside, does it still deserve the hate today?

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VJ Bacungan

Senior Writer

An award-winning multimedia journalist, editor, and host for online and TV who has written in-depth stories on road safety and the Philippine elections. Outside of the media, VJ is an accomplished motorsports champion, English teacher, and dancer.

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