By on August 21, 2015

1. Hyundai Elantra Yanji

After Changchun, we hop on a short 45 minute flight to Yanji, capital of the little-known Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, next to the North Korean border. Yanbian was created in 1955 as a reward for Koreans who fought on the side of the communists in the Civil War and is the only minority prefecture in the north of China. Many Koreans refer to it as the “third Korea” — after the South and North, given it’s around half the size of South Korea. However, it’s home to just two million inhabitants, including roughly 400,000 in Yanji.

2. Chery QQ Yanji

Chery QQ in Yanji (notice the Russian sign)

It’s a fascinating and unexpected experience to see most street signs including shops, restaurants and hotels bilingual in Chinese and Korean (and even Russian, sometimes), newspapers in Korean and hearing Korean spoken instead of Chinese.

As has been the case in China’s western Xinjiang province with its Uyghur population, the percentage of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian has fallen from 60  in the 1950s to 38 percent today.


China map with Yanji TTAC

Yanji localization in China


2. Kia K3 Yanji

Kia K3 and Hyundai Mistra

Apart from taxis that account for a good 25 percent of cars in circulation in the centre of town and composed at 75 percent of 2000 Hyundai Elantras (still sold in China, the rest are VW Jetta König), it is not the Korean car tidal wave I expected. The Kia K3, Sportage R, Hyundai ix35 and Mistra are present in good numbers, but not much more than expected given their respective national rankings. The Kia Sorento may have had its sales inflated by the region’s proximity of Korea, but that would be about it.


3. VW Jetta Chery QQ Yanji

Chery QQ and VW Jetta under a Korean-style arch in Yanji.

Chinese manufacturers represent roughly 1/3 of all cars in the centre of town (excluding taxis), a ratio that increases as we reach the outskirts of the city. In any case, a slight improvement over the 25-30% of Changchun — with the added specificity that in Shanghai (Roewe) and Changchun (FAW) one local carmaker clearly dominated — here the landscape is a lot more varied and most main domestic manufacturers are fairly well represented.


7. Yanji Street scene 2

Yanji street scene

The Yanji car park is markedly older than in Changchun where it seemed that almost every private car in circulation had been bought in the past year. Sedans rule by far, but are skewed towards smaller sizes and more affordable brands — a logical trend as we step out of the big cities and revenue per inhabitant goes south. SUVs are frequent but not a craze yet, and we remain at a very low pickup ratio in traffic, dominated by the Dongfeng Oting, JMC and Great Wall Wingle.


4. Dongfeng V07S Yanji

Dongfeng V07S


FAW V70 Yanji


Microvans, however, are back in force — though this time the brand spread is very large. It’s not just Wulings and Chanas like the national sales figures indicate. Other lesser-known models have their time in the limelight here: the FAW V70 is at its most popular here versus anywhere I’ve been in China so far (see further down this report for an illustration), and I spotted generous amounts of Dongfeng V07S, Beijing Auto Weiwang 205, Karry Youyi and various Jinbei and Hafei models.


5. Wuling Hongguang Yanji

2 x Wuling Hongguang in Yanji


Wuling Hongguang Yanji 2

Wuling Hongguang

Overall though, the Wuling Hongguang should top the sales charts in Yanji as it does nationally, with the Chana Honor also strong and the Karry K50 starting to show itself.


6. Chery E3 Yanji

Chery E3


Chery Tiggo5 Yanji

Chery Tiggo5 (notice the Korean characters above the Chinese ones)

Two brands are clearly noticeable much more often in Yanji than in other Chinese cities I have visited so far. The first one is domestic manufacturer Chery. I am willing to bet the 2013 Chery QQ ranks inside the Top 5 in Yanji, with the Tiggo3 inside the Top 10 and the Tiggo5 and E3 small sedan inside the Top 15. That’s a spectacular success for a brand that has been relatively discreet on the national stage for the past couple of years. The Fulwin 2 hatchback is also a very frequent sight.

Chery Fulwin 2 Kia Sportage Yanji

Chery Fulwin 2 and Kia Sportage R


Chery Cowin 2 and E3 Yanji

Chery Cowin 2 and E3

But the most interesting element about Chery’s success in Yanji is that it seems to be relatively recent, as there is no significant heritage of previous generations QQ or Tiggo. If this is true, it would make for a very interesting insight as it shows a Chinese brand is reclaiming lost territory in the sedan and SUV segments with low-end models. Cities like Yanji are the reason why affordable sedans like the E3 are still manufactured by Chinese carmakers even though their success nationally is relatively limited. These aren’t successful in big cities, but in smaller ones where new car sales are growing the fastest.

Citroen C-Quatre Hyundai Elantra Yanji

Citroen C-Quatre and Hyundai Elantra taxi

The second brand that captured my attention by its unusual frequency — albeit at a much lower level than Chery — is Citroen, in particular with the C-Quatre hatchback and sedan that seem to be very successful here. This is in contrast with Peugeot,  which is almost inexistent bar one single 408 and a couple of 2008. I also saw the first DS 5LS of this trip in Yanji.


Nissan Sylphy Yanji

Nissan Sylphy


Nissan Teana Yanji

Nissan Teana


Nissan Sunny Yanji

Nissan Sunny

Although Citroen was stronger than expected, the most popular foreigner overall here seems to be Nissan, whose Sylphy is a blockbuster seller in Yanji, and the Tiida, Sunny, X-Trail and Teana also very strong in this order. Logical in a city keen on affordable sedans, the Toyota Vios is a hit in Yanji (as is the Yaris L), while in the Honda aisle the XR-V and Vezel twins are already frequent, which is extremely impressive given they have been in market for just a handful of months.


Ford Escort Yanji

Ford Escort

Volkswagen is still successful here but nowhere near as much as in Changchun. The Santana, Lavida and Jetta are the most popular. Ford’s Kuga (Escape in the U.S.) is a winner and I already saw one Escort. Obviously, and this is becoming comical, we have our residents Toyota Tundra (two in fact) and Ford F-150 Raptor in Yanji. No pictures yet but there will be some in the next stops…

Brilliance H330 Yanji

Brilliance H330


BAW BJ40 Yanji



ChangAn CS75 Yanji

ChangAn CS75

Back to the Chinese: Apart from the Chery QQ, Yanji consumers are avid buyers of all its minicar competitors. The BYD F0, JAC A10 and ChangAn Benben are all popular here. ChangAn does very well indeed in Yanji, the CS35 is very well established and the CS75 is becoming quite frequent already. Brilliance also gets noticed with its V5 SUV (I spotted 3 in a matter of meters) and the H330 sedan pictured above. The FAW Besturn X80 is once again among the best-selling SUVs in Yanji – although a lot weaker than in Changchun. I spotted two BAW BJ40s, the first Leopaard Q6 of the trip (facelifted Mitsubishi Pajero), and half of all police sedans are of the Haima family with the other half of the police fleet comprising of VW Jetta Königs.


Great Wall M4 Yanji

Great Wall M4

Finally, there is a very solid heritage of Great Wall M4, C20R and C30. Now that these models are being phased out, it will be interesting to see where these specific consumers (mainly women from what I saw) report their next sales. The Haval H1 — in effect a modernised Great Wall M4 — would be the first possible choice, but the door is open for another domestic manufacturer to win the sale.


Jaguar XJ Yanji

Jaguar XJ in Yanji

Next we are going further north to Mudanjiang in the Heilongjiang province… Stay tuned!

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

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Yanji Street scene 1Yanji street scene

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24 Comments on “China 2015: Cars of Yanji, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture...”

  • avatar

    Very interesting. I lived in Korea for a year (Army) and have been to the North Korea-South Korea border checkpoint at the DMZ. Had no idea of the history of this city. I wonder how easy it is for the Chinese-Korean residents to cross the border?

  • avatar

    For a government that is so insecure about its local cultures and dialects, I am shocked that China would allow Korean script to be placed above the Chinese script in any public setting.

    I wonder if public announcements would have Korean too?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think they care so much about culture or dialect, but political power. As long as these people aren’t causing trouble for the Communist Party, they can do as they please.

    • 0 avatar

      As long as your people don’t rock the boat, minorities actually get preferential treatment in China. I’m not 100% on this, but I believe that all taxes collected in this autonomous region gets to be spent 100% locally and none of it goes to Beijing. And they have affirmative action programs for jobs, schools, etc. plus exemptions from the One Child Policy.

      But for those with sufficient power to rock the boat, the central government comes down hard on you. Outside of the obvious examples of Tibetans and Uyghurs, the Cantonese language is expected to be extinct in the next 50 years (or less) due to government policies created to promote Mandarin.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. Chinese people (I’m talking about the 92% of Chinese that are of the Han ethnic group) are some of the least racist people I’ve ever met on my travels. They’re too pragmatic to bother with it. Like the Mongol or Roman empires before them, they’re happy to let you have your religion or distinct culture, as long as you pay your taxes and don’t rock the boat.

        • 0 avatar

          Not entirely true.

          Those who aren’t ethnic Han tend to face discrimination and even among the Han, there are biases/prejudices – such as between the Northern Mandarin speakers and the Southern Cantonese.

          In Taiwan, Han wives who were brought over from the PRC were looked down upon (but this is changing as the PRC has gotten weathier).

  • avatar

    Do Russians and Chinese need a visa to visit each other? When I was in Russia, I met some Koreans who said they could travel relativiley freely to Russia, which was a surprise. Lots of bureaucracy for us westerners.

    The existence of this province was all new to me, even though I’ve read a great deal about North Korea, including several books. Many refugees get send right back by their sort-of-not-so-Communist northern neighbours.

    A great post, again! Who knew FAW made a car that rivals Volvo, if only in name?

  • avatar

    The restaurant by the Tiggo5 is a 24-hour noodle place!

  • avatar

    All Nissan sedans look the same.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed they do. Pity that Citroen isn’t too far off either – a Citroen should always be very distinct.

      • 0 avatar

        Things sure change quickly in ten years. I visited Beijing around 2006, and I recall most of the taxi fleet was composed of Citroen cars. From reading these two articles it seems Citroen is no longer the major taxi player.

  • avatar

    That XJ is likely owned by a VERY important/wealthy person there. Good luck getting it serviced properly every 2 months or so.

  • avatar

    That Escort looks like it has quiet a bit of glass. While everywhere else Ford is going to bunker-vision. The Chinese got lucky on this one.

    I saw a Focus sitting next to a MKVI Golf yesterday, and I never realized how squished the Ford looks compared to its competition.

  • avatar

    This is a Chinese city way out in the sticks (by Chinese standards), but seems to be fairly prosperous. You can tell there’s a healthy middle class as you can spot things like stores selling pianos and leather clothing.

  • avatar

    Forget the cars. Show me the women.

  • avatar

    Matt, thanks for this unique and interesting view of a little known part of the world.

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