China is a world apart. Culturally, politically and economically speaking, this country is very different from what we are used to seeing in the West. This is true in the automotive sector, where the largest automotive market in the world includes a large number of makes and models not available in the rest of the world.
Thanks to strong local demand, Chinese manufacturers have largely focused on the domestic market. But sooner or later they will expand their business globally. Here are the nine biggest Chinese automakers to watch, ranked by sales volume.
9: GAC Group (Guangzhou Automotive Group)
In 2021, this group sold 450,000 units through GAC, Trumpchi and Aion. These are basically SUVs of various sizes, plus some interesting sedans and electric vehicles.
Additionally, it produces cars under a joint venture with Mitsubishi, Toyota, Honda and Stellantis. At present, GAC’s global expansion has not reached Europe or the United States, but the group is investing heavily with Toyota to make more competitive electric cars.
8: BYD (Build Your Dreams)
Founded in 2003 when BYD Company purchased Qinchuan Automobile, last year the company sold 740,000 cars in a curated lineup that includes the Dynasty series, featuring the eye-catching midsize SUV BYD Tang and the modern plug-in/electric sedan BYD Han . There is also the Ocean family with the Dolfin, the Seal, and many more models to come. BYD already sells Tang SUVs in some European markets and has a presence in the Middle East and South America.
Dongfeng is a sprawling company in terms of brands: Venucia, Fengdu, Aeolus, Forthing, Voyah, and of course, Dongfeng itself. It also produces cars for Honda, Nissan, Kia and Peugeot-Citroën. In 2021, this group sold a total of 762,000 vehicles (excluding joint ventures), up 13% compared to 2020 and 23% compared to 2019.
Dongfeng markets some vehicles in Europe (Seres 3, Dongfeng 580 and F5), but its greatest strength in global markets is in the light commercial vehicle segment.
6: FAW (first car factory)
It was founded in 1953 and is one of the leading manufacturers in China due to its close ties with Chinese state officials. Last year, the company sold 810,000 vehicles across its brands, including Jiefang trucks, Bestune traditional cars and Hongqi luxury cars.
The latter brand produces the Hongqi L5, the official state car of China. FAW has joint ventures with Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen Group. Hongqi is present in Europe with the luxury SUV E-HS9 in Norway.
5: Chery Automotive
Chery is a relatively new brand, launched in 1997. Its main products are passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles. It started exporting cars in 2001 but still has a very limited presence in developed markets. However, it has production facilities outside of China, including in Brazil and Egypt. Last year, Chery sold 962,000 units under the Exeed, Karry, Jetour brands and its own Chery nameplate. Most of the cars assembled by DR Automobiles in Italy are of Chery origin.
4: SAIC Motor (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation)
SAIC is the current owner of MG, Morris Garages and other brands such as Roewe, Maxus and Feifan. In 2021, SAIC sold 1.11 million cars globally, excluding car sales made through joint ventures with GM-Wuling (which produces the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, the best-selling electric vehicle in China), Volkswagen, General Motors and Iveco.
Through the MG brand, this manufacturer was the second Chinese carmaker in terms of sales in Europe in 2021, with 53,100 units sold. This equates to more than 80% of all Chinese brands marketed on the Old Continent, excluding Geely.
3: Engines of the Great Wall
This private company is mainly known for its SUVs. It produces vehicles under its own brands such as Haval, China’s largest SUV brand, Wey, Tank, ORA and Great Wall. Although most of the 1.28 million cars delivered in 2021 were sold in China, it has started to explore the European market through the ORA brand and its retro-styled small cars. Haval is also present in developing markets such as South America and the Middle East.
2: Geely Group
It is arguably the most global Chinese automaker thanks to its majority stake in Volvo Cars and the strong push of some of its brands outside of China. With 2.03 million units sold, this conglomerate started producing cars in 1997 under the Geely brand.
Years later, Geely bought foreign brands such as Volvo in Sweden, Proton in Malaysia and Lotus in Britain. Geely also launched new brands such as Lynk & Co, which is present in Europe with great success in the Netherlands and Italy. Polestar, Zeekr and Geometry are also under the Geely Group umbrella.
1: Changan Automotive
Based in Chongqing, southwest China, it was the country’s top automaker in 2021 with 2.3 million units sold, not including sales through joint ventures. The volume increased by 15% compared to 2020 and 31% compared to 2019. Changan manufactures vehicles under the Changan brand (the second most popular national brand in China in 2021), Oshan and Kaicene. Currently, Changan has joint ventures with Ford and Mazda. Last year, Changan sold more cars than other companies like Mazda and Tata Group.
The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is automotive industry specialist JATO Dynamics.