China’s assault on the auto markets of the west may have been delayed another five years, but Australia is going to be the canary in the coal mine. The first mature Western-style market to see any significant imports of Chinese vehicles, led by the Chery J1, is adapting to a new era of low-cost, low-content cars. And it seems that the Chinese OEMs are right to be waiting for future generations of vehicles, as the J1 seems unlikely to make even the impact that Hyundai’s departed Excel made. One reason: safety. Or lack thereof. Hit the the jump to see what we’re on about.
Not wildly inspiring, is it? On the other hand, it could be worse: after all, Holden’s Barina (a rebadged Daewoo Kalos/Chevy Aveo) got a similar two-star rating back in 2005. So, weak safety scores alone shouldn’t keep the J1 back…
Similarly, the marketing for the new Chery is weak… but not fatally, embarrassingly bad. To wit
But, if we look to South Africa, which has already been exposed to earlier Cherys, the perception of the J1 is something along the lines of the recent crop of Chrysler 200 reviews: still not competitive but a huge improvement. Or, in the words of this reviewer, a “scarily large improvement.”
In short, the J1 seems to represent a step in the development of China’s car industry: better than the rolling jokes of even a few years ago, but still not ready for primetime in the Western markets. And if China makes the most of the next five years of development, the next wave of export-oriented Chinese cars could begin to make the kind of impact we’ve seen from Hyundai over the last several decades. But neither the Koreans nor the Chinese will enjoy the opportunity afforded the Japanese, which came into the US just as Detroit’s automakers were fatally losing their way in a rapidly-changing market. If China’s going to make good on the angst it inspires in the Western automakers, it’s going to have to earn it vehicle by vehicle, generation by generation. This is only the beginning.