China 2015: The 10 Most Impressive Carmakers at Auto Shanghai (Part 3)

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

This is it: the most impressive carmaker at Auto Shanghai, Haval.

Like in Beijing last year, I was most impressed by Haval at Auto Shanghai, and for a variety of reasons. Haval is Great Wall’s SUV marque, a standalone brand since July 2013. Above all, having topped my ranking last year already, I had high expectations for the brand and they didn’t disappoint, which was a very significant achievement on its own.

The multi-layered Haval stand at Auto Shanghai 2015

Haval was the only manufacturer in the entire Shanghai Auto Show (not just the Chinese carmakers) to build a multi-layered stand, displaying no less than 28 vehicles. It reminded me of Mercedes going all out at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2013. Haval was the only Chinese manufacturer in an exhibition hall almost exclusively dedicated to SUV brands, sitting next to Jaguar Land Rover and Jeep. A lack of inferiority complex and a willingness to play with the big boys earned my respect once again and put Haval in a sphere of its own among Chinese carmakers.

Haval H6 Coupe

Once on the stand, I braced myself for a couple of new, unheard-of-before models. Two concepts looked very aggressive and very sexy. The Concept B and R (for Blue and Red) royally waved at the crowd from their elevated stage, hinting at a future range-topping model slotted above the H9 (H10?) that could be unveiled in Beijing next year.

Haval relaunched its best seller, the H6, before my eyes, and added a very appealing H6 Coupe variant to the mix. To clarify, the H6 was already facelifted a little more than a year ago when the H6 Sport launched and quickly accounted for the large majority of the H6 nameplate sales. Now the nameplate is completely renewed, looking much better. I was impressed with Hyundai’s fast turnaround, but Haval blows the Korean marque out of the water with only 18 months between renewals. Keeping in mind two years ago Haval wasn’t even a standalone brand, this pace is very impressive indeed, even if this is just skin deep and the mechanics remain mostly unchanged.

Haval H7

But that wasn’t all. A completely new Haval nameplate made its first appearance at Auto Shanghai. The H7 was introduced in two variants: H7 and H7L extended wheelbase, each featuring different front designs and effectively looking like two different vehicles altogether.

Everything I appreciated at the Haval stand in Beijing last year remained true this year, only at a much larger scale. Host(esse)s opened the door for you to slide into each car and close it behind you. They’re also very helpful and answer all your questions in perfect English. All nameplates were present including the H1 that looked very cool inside with coloured dashboards matched with the exterior paint, the now trusted best-seller H2, the patched-up H5 and H6 Classic, and the H8 and H9 flagships.

So is it all good and well in the world for Haval? Not quite.

Haval Concept B

Firstly, Haval unveiled a new Red/Blue logo strategy at the Show. It’s a mystery to me that some Chinese manufacturers seem to often mess with something very clear and single-minded — this time brand positioning — by confusing the heck out of it. The creation, success and growth of the SUV-exclusive Haval brand in China in the past two years is potentially the most impressive strategic achievement of any Chinese carmaker, ever. Now to confuse it with two different philosophies and logos — labelled as “an impressive fission of Haval that will bring the brand to a new level” (cough) — this new strategy means Haval’s products will now be divided into two lines represented by a red or a blue logo. “Luxurious and classic Red Logo Haval targets mainstream families, and cool and trendy Blue Logo Haval targets young consumers” (Haval words). In the future, Haval’s sales network will be divided into the red network and the blue network, too. Say what?

This H6 Coupe has a red logo and looks a lot like the H7…

The Concept R (for Red) and B (for Blue) were used to launch this new logo strategy, but the Concept R was looking much more aggressive and sexy with its Audi-inspired grille whereas the Concept B, although classy with its thin headlights and hexagonal grille, was a lot blander. So mainstream families prefer aggressive styling whereas the youth wants conservative? I think you got it all wrong there Haval.

Armed with the new Red/Blue positioning info, I had to go through all models displayed on the Haval stand once more to see if I could guess whether their logo should be red or blue. And then I discovered the H6 Coupe was shown in two different-looking variants: one with a red logo, one with a blue. So the H6 now comes as H6 Classic, H6 Sport, New H6, H6 Coupe Blue and H6 Coupe Red — that’s five different vehicles. If this doesn’t cement the #2 ranking it snapped in April in the overall Chinese models ranking, I don’t know what will. The H1 had a blue logo (makes sense), the H5 and H6 Classic also (because they’re older and cheap?), the H7 had a red one (logical) but the H7L a blue one (what?)… I give up.

Blue logo’ed Haval H1

Having its range expand from essentially one nameplate (the H5) three years ago to 12 vehicles today and potentially 15 within a few months when the Concept R and B come to life, Haval has displayed the fastest lineup expansion I have witnessed in the course of the almost 30 years I have spent studying the global automotive industry. Enormous kudos should go to Great Wall for having the guts to separate the Haval brand from the rest of the Great Wall lineup in the first place, making it a credible standalone SUV specialist brand at home and growing it so smartly and so fast.

Haval H5 Classic celebrating 10 (youthful?) years of existence with a blue logo.

However, there is one last thing I must mention before I’m done with Haval and Auto Shanghai 2015. The same way Volkswagen has lost themselves in their Chinese success and started spitting clones a couple of years ago, Haval snouts are starting to look dangerously similar: The H6 Coupe looks like the Concept R while the new H6 now looks like a H7 that is a smaller clone of the H8 which in turn takes cues from the H6 Sport and the H2. Caution Haval, don’t ruin a perfectly oiled machine even before you take your brand overseas: Haval is scheduled to launch in its first foreign market, Australia, imminently.

Next we start exploring the car landscape in various cities around China, so stay tuned!

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a website dedicated to car sales, trends and analysis called BestSellingCarsBlog.

Matt Gasnier
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2 of 13 comments
  • Johann Johann on Jul 26, 2015

    Sorry Matt but can you please never take photos again or at the very least go online and Google how to take photos of cars?! Yikes. EVERY photo is a "show absolutely zero of the car's shape" near dead front on photo. Eh?!?! Ever heard of the three quarter photos so we can at least see one side and either a nose or tail of each car. Spoilt the article for me since I have NO idea what these cars look like apart from their identikit noses.

  • Nurburgring Nurburgring on Jul 26, 2015

    >Haval is scheduled to launch in its first foreign market, Australia, imminently. That is incorrect. Haval has been available in Chile for some time now. They are represented locally by a huge conglomerate (Derco).

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