China 2015: Cars of Mohe, Heilongjiang Province

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier
Dongfeng dealership in Mohe

We continue on our exploration of Chinese regions and after Harbin we head north to Mohe, still in the Heilongjiang province. This is the northernmost city in the whole of China, completely rebuilt in 1985 after a devastating fire, with striking Russian imperial-era style with colourful facades, spired domes and pillared entrances. A further 60 km (37 miles) north via a very quiet highway is Beijicun (literally “Arctic Village”), the northernmost settlement in China on the Amur River, the border with Russia.

In fact, from a couple places in Beijicun you can clearly see a Russian settlement on the other bank of the river. Even though it was the end of April when I visited, the river was carrying a large amount of ice blocks thawing their way toward the Japan Sea. As you can see on the map below the jump, in Mohe we are further north than any point in Mongolia and around the same latitude as the north of Lake Baikal — two regions I reported on in a previous Trans-Siberian series. You can see the Russian part of the Trans-Siberies Photo Series here and the Mongol part here.

So what are the most popular vehicles in Mohe?

Mohe is the northernmost city in China.
Mohe main street

Logically, the Mohe County is where the lowest temperature was ever recorded in China at a scary −62°F in February 1969. This location single-handedly places China as the 5th coldest country in the world after Russia (−90°F), Canada, the USA and Austria. (More trivia: the all-time lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was −136°F in Antarctica in August 2010.)

Toyota Vios taxi in Mohe

Mohe’s average temperatures stay below freezing for 7 months of the year, and the frost-free period just short of 90 days places it only a little south of the line of continuous permafrost. So did I freeze here? Nope. Two days before I arrived it snowed, and it did again the day after I left but temperatures graciously stayed above 0°C during my entire stay in Mohe, despite a vicious hail storm I got caught under on my first day…

Dongfeng Fengguang 330 in Mohe

Mohe marks the most “adventurous” location I have visited during this exploration of Northeastern China. I stepped out of the only plane straight onto the tarmac near the 1967-style airport, and then handled terse female taxi drivers (1/3 of taxi drivers are female in Mohe) who refused to take me on unless I paid double the usual amount for the airport-city center ride and hopped in one free taxi standing alone outside the airport only to have my driver be chased by the police for cutting the queue. I wasn’t able to stay in the one hotel recommended by Lonely Planet because I’m a foreigner, and discovered that the Golden Horse Palace (literally a palace but charging only $40 a night) wasn’t able to accept my MasterCard.

Hyundai Mistra in Mohe

The China Post Bank almost swallowed my credit card as a souvenir, but I thanked the good old Agricultural Bank of China for graciously spitting out much-needed cash that allowed me to stay in town just as I was making plans to jump back on the plane and head home. In Mohe, more than anywhere else, I was the attraction in town being the only foreigner for thousands of miles, and I felt like a Hollywood movie star every time I stepped out. No one speaks English there, but everyone under 25 years old has a Samsung Galaxy smartphone (all the rage in that part of the world) with a Chinese-English translator that they excitedly held up to me so we can communicate, each of us with a big smile. That’s why I love China.

Wuling Rongguang Pickup in Mohe

Now that we’ve set the scene, what is the car landscape like in Mohe? First, given we are at the lowest city tier level (county), foreign carmakers are having a hard time reaching these remote parts of the country and Chinese manufacturers edge past foreign ones to take the lead and represent roughly 60 percent of the parc. Although there are quite a few battered FAW Xiali around, the auto parc is remarkably young for such a remote location, and a lot of the latest sales stars are already in town, such as the Haval H6 Sport (a few of them), H1 and H2, Baojun 730 and, in the foreign aisle, Peugeot 2008.

Mohe’s resident Toyota Tundra

There is also the lone, resident Toyota Tundra in Mohe, confirming that in each and every Chinese city I have visited so far there is at least one full-size American pickup truck …

Haval H1 in Mohe

At 5 yuan to ride anywhere in town (USD $0.80!), taxis are an overused means of transportation and they swarm the few streets of Mohe. Given it is such a small town, it is easy to recognise the taxi drivers that you have used and wave them down for further rides if they’ve been friendly – which is what I did for my trip to Beijicun as I will detail later on. Unlike all cities I have visited so far this year, there is not a standard taxi nameplate here, with a flurry of models being used such as the Toyota Vios, Hyundai Verna, FAW Xiali N3, BYD F3, Shanghai Englon SC7 or Chery E5.

Wuling Hongguang in Beijicun

There are a couple of car dealerships in town: one for Dongfeng proudly displaying the latest generation Rich pickup launched last December (first on the left in the opening picture of this article) and one for JAC which hasn’t exactly been met with extraordinary success so far, judging by the low number of JAC models in town. On the contrary, Dongfeng has already made a mark, with a reasonable amount of previous gen Rich pickups in the streets as well as the V27L van and its double cabin pickup variant.

Mohe-Gulian airport, opened in 2008.
Haval H6 Sport in Mohe

The Wuling Mini Truck (aka Rongguang Pickup) is by far the most popular new nameplate in town, and it’s not rare to spot four of them parked behind one another during the daily morning market. The transition from traditional microvans to double cabin mini pickups is a trend I detailed in a China Light Commercial Vehicles April 2015 update. Other popular nameplates in town include the Haval H6 Sport, Wuling Hongguang, Baojun 730, Toyota Vios, Hyundai Verna, Elantra Yuedong and the latest generation FAW Xiali N3 – justifying its survival in FAW’s lineup. Volkswagen has managed to establish a solid presence in the county, with the Bora, Jetta, Sagitar and Santana the most popular in this order.

BAW Yongshi in Mohe

In line with the part of the world I found myself in, there are a few signs of “steppe customer tastes” (choices that would be typical in neighbouring Russia and Mongolia) in the form of a couple of badass BAW Yongshi trucks, one of them pictured above. Pickup trucks also point their bonnet in town, including the now mandatory Toyota Tundra, the ZX Auto Grand Tiger, Great Wall Steed and a few Chevrolet Colorado-cloned JAC pickups.

Last generation FAW Xiali N3 taxi in Mohe
Amur/Heilongjiang river in Beijicun

Taxi driver Guo Myang had been particularly helpful on my confused ride from the no-foreigner hotel to the Golden Horse Palace, and I waved him down the next day for the 70km ride north to Beijicun. Heavily militarized, it seemed to be a pretty sensitive area with a Russian mirador built across the river from the touristic northernmost point you can walk to in China — I won’t publish any photos of this location for security reasons. A rather fascinating spot with no roads to Russia, the only option to cross the border was private motorboats, none of them were afloat at the time I visited. Big ice chunks traveled at speed on the river while spring slowly transformed into summer.

Russian village across the river from Beijicun

Clearly visible from one of the Beijicun viewpoint where one Chinese military officer complimented me about my beard (what the?) is one Russian settlement pictured above. I tried to spot a few Ladas without success. In Beijicun itself a few of the latest faves of the Chinese market are represented, namely three Wuling Hongguang, two Haval H6 Sport, two Nissan Qashqai, one Baojun 730, one Zotye T600, one VW Sagitar, one VW Lavida police car, one Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and one Huanghai Plutus pickup.

And that was all for the Mohe car landscape description, the Photo Report continues below with 35 pictures.

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

Haval H6 Sport in Mohe
Mohe street scene
BAW Jeep in Mohe
Haval H2 and Peugeot 301 in Mohe
JAC Pickup in Mohe
Mohe taxis
The road to Beijicun
Foton Tunland and JMC S550 in Beijicun
Chery E5 and Toyota Vios in Mohe
Wuling Rongguang Pickup in Mohe
Haima F-Star Pickup in Mohe
JAC Reni Pickup in Mohe
Mohe taxis
Haval H6 Sport in Mohe
Dongfeng Van in Mohe
Baojun 730 in Mohe
Mohe street scene
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6 of 20 comments
  • Sjalabais Sjalabais on Sep 20, 2015

    What do people live off in a place like this? It looks very wealthy with all the well-maintained buildings. I've read that after the fall of the rouble, cross-border-trade has slowed. Selling babymilk from Russia to China is now bigger than selling all kinds of goods the other way. Again, another fantastic article drawing cars into a wider context. Keep 'em coming!

    • See 3 previous
    • RideHeight RideHeight on Sep 21, 2015

      @Corey Lewis Wow. Them Asiatics... sometimes they take a Western innovation and run with it so well they blow us out of the market. Other times they chrome banisters and create anime-eyes. Go figure.

  • Deliverator Deliverator on Sep 22, 2015

    I don't see any in the photos, but did you see any of those tractor things, that looks like a rototiller (big), with a guy controlling it from a trailer? It's basically an engine on two wheels, then you can hook up whatever implement behind it. Often a trailer with two handles you can use to drive with.

  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.
  • Joe65688619 I agree there should be more sedans, but recognize the trend. There's still a market for performance oriented-drivers. IMHO a low budget sedan will always be outsold by a low budget SUV. But a sports sedan, or a well executed mid-level sedan (the Accord and Camry) work. Smaller market for large sedans except I think for an older population. What I'm hoping to see is some consolidation across brands - the TLX for example is not selling well, but if it was offered only in the up-level configurations it would not be competing with it's Honda sibling. I know that makes the market smaller and niche, but that was the original purpose of the "luxury" brands - badge-engineering an existing platform at a relatively lower cost than a different car and sell it with a higher margin for buyers willing and able to pay for them. Also creates some "brand cachet." But smart buyers know that simple badging and slightly better interiors are usually not worth the cost. Put the innovative tech in the higher-end brands first, differentiate they drivetrain so it's "better" (the RDX sells well for Acura, same motor and tranmission, added turbo which makes a notable difference compared to the CRV). The sedan in many Western European countries is the "family car" as opposed to micro and compact crossovers (which still sell big, but can usually seat no more than a compact sedan).