Chinese products have dominated almost every industry – except of course the automobile industry. But this could easily change. Chinese made cars are improving at a rapid pace and could soon challenge more established car makers. The Chinese invasion will soon start in India, with General Motors launching the Sail hatchback. The Sail is the brainchild of GM’s joint venture with SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), which is by far the largest Chinese car maker, and which also happens to be GM’s joint venture partner for India.
The Chevrolet Sail is the brand’s top seller in China. In September, Chevrolet sales in China were 56,166 units, 18,786 or 33 percent of which were generated by the Sail. The Cruze brought in sales of 18,338 units.
When I saw the Sail at the Indian Auto Expo earlier this year, I was disappointed. The styling is conservative and the interiors look outdated. GM’s Indian engineers have tweaked the car thoroughly to adapt it to Indian road conditions, and a diesel powertrain (a must for India) is part of the package. The 1.3-litre Multijet (Fiat-GM co-developed) produces 78 PS and 151 lb-ft. A 1.2-litre Gasoline engine is on offer too (86 PS, 83 lb-ft).
So how does this car drive? I was pleasantly surprised by the Sail. It doesn’t drive bad at all. Performance is good for city driving and interior space is easily the best in its class. There is ample amount of front and rear room. Handling is good but the steering is very vague, lacking feedback. Ride quality is amazing and the Sail eats away bad roads. Trunk capacity is good too. The Sail is a very practical vehicle which is certain to do well in India. A sedan version of the Sail and the Enjoy (CN-100) MPV, both SAIC products, will follow.
The Sail is being assembled at a GM plant in India. GM’s India business is jointly owned by GM and SAIC through a Hong Kong registered joint venture. A few days ago, it was announced that GM had bought back most of the shares in the jointly-owned India business. GM now holds 93 percent, seven percent are held by SAIC. According to Reuters, GM’s India car sales fell 21 percent in the first six months of the financial year that began in April,while overall industry car sales slipped 0.3 percent in the same period. GM sold 111,510 cars in India in 2011, less than a third of its total installed capacity.
According to data published by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), Indians bought 2.6 million passenger vehicles in the 2011/2012 fiscal, and 800,000 commercial vehicles, for a grand total of 3.427 million motorvehicles. With 14 million motorized two and three-wheeler sold in the same period, the market already has a potential for 17 million units annually. With a population of 1.24 billion, India is seen as the “next China.”
Do you think Chinese car makers will make a formidable challenge to European and Japanese car makers in the future?
Faisal Ali Khan is the owner/operator of MotorBeam.com, a website covering the auto industry of India.