China 2015: Cars of Rmqi, Xinjiang Uyghur

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

After covering the northernmost city in China (Mohe), we now travel to Ürümqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in the westernmost part of China. I thought we may as well push it to the extreme and explore the provincial capital furthest from Beijing, a whopping 1,500 miles (2,400 km) away.

In fact, Ürümqi – pronounced something resembling “Yooloomooshee” – is both geographically and culturally closer to Kabul in Afghanistan than it is to Beijing. The majority of the population is Muslim and most Chinese road signs are dubbed in Arabic and sometimes Cyrillic script.

What are the most popular vehicles in this remote part of the world?

Urumqi location in Western China

Shanghai Englon SC6 in Ürümqi

Observing the Ürümqi car landscape is like plunging into a parallel Chinese universe: One foot placed firmly in the past while the other one walks toward the future. On one hand, some of the traffic looks like it’s still stuck in 2006: Most taxis are bruised and battered VW Jettas, Santanas and Santana Vistsa accompanied by a regular flow of Citroen Fukangs and first generation C-Elysées. On the other hand, Ürümqi may forehsadow what most of Western China will look like in the not-too distant future.

Zotye T600

Much has been said about the potential that China’s less-developed regions will ‘fall’ for their own Chinese cars much more so than the Eastern Coast when they start buying new vehicles en masse. You can check out a strategy analysis I wrote about the future of the Chinese new car market here. Ürumqi car buyers choose Chinese brands a lot more than their Eastern counterparts, but the surprising element is that the popular Chinese models in Ürümqi were not the ones I expected based on the national sales charts, and by far: an entire swath of Chinese vehicle brands, struggling a little nationally and merely spotted in my last stops, suddenly took centre stage.

Shanghai Englon SC7

Shanghai Englon SC3

Let’s start with a rough estimate of around 40 percent of the Ürümqi traffic being Chinese — and ratio is going more Chinese based on the amount of brand new local vehicles I saw in the streets. Basically, the budget end of the Chinese production is extremely popular in Ürümqi, starting with Geely’s ex-brand Shanghai Englon. I never imagined I would see so many SC7s, SC3s and SC6s (in this order) in a single day!

Great Wall Haval H6 and Shanghai Englon SC6

Gleagle GX7

The Shanghai Englon logo was everywhere. This was my biggest surprise of the visit. Geely’s Gleagle GX7 is also very successful here. Emgrand less so. The death of the Shanghai Englon and Gleagle brands last year won’t be an issue here. The Geely brand already has a strong heritage through its CK and MK models that are also extremely frequent in the city.

Facelifted Dongfeng Fengshen S30

Dongfeng Fengshen H30 Cross and Buick GL8 – notice the arabic script

In fact, the lower you go down the price range, the more chances it will be successful in Ürümqi. Second case in point: Dongfeng’s Fengshen budget sub-brand is very frequent here. The S30 (both new and old), H30, H30 Cross and A60 are all favours Ürümqi car buyers crave.

Great Wall Voleex C30

The Great Wall Voleex C30 is also everywhere in Ürümqi. Confirming the Chinese budget trend described above, there were very few Haval SUVs and an OK but not exceptional number of Great Wall Haval H6s — meaning they are now at least two years old as the Haval rebranding happened in mid-2013.

Chery QQ

Among other Chinese carmakers strong in Ürümqi, let’s salute Chery: A solid showing of previous-generation QQs and a few new-generation examples were spotted, but also the E3, E5, Tiggo 3 and Tiggo 5.

Ürümqi street scene

Chana Star and Hawtai Santa Fe Police


Brilliance is also doing stronger across the entire range including the V5 SUV, GAC sells a lot of its Trumpchi GS5 SUV, the Haima2 is very frequent and Hawtai has managed to convince the local police to use its Santa Fe SUV. Big mistake!

Far from Beijing: signage is dubbed in Arabic behind a Venucia R50 ‘sport’

Logically, low-cost Chinese brands are doing great here, especially Venucia. I saw heaps of D50 sedans, quite a few R50 hatches, and a couple of Baojun 630 sedans as well.

Shanghai Maple Marindo

Discontinued since 2008, the Shanghai Maple brand is still surprisingly well represented in Ürümqi with the Marindo sedan not at all rare once you step off the big boulevards. I also saw a lot of MG3s (the most I’ve seen in my trip so far and by a large margin) and FAW Xiali N7 hatchs, but surprisingly there is no Xiali heritage in Ürümqi at all. This model was the best seller in China over a decade ago. One way to explain its absence could be the fact that, at that time, the Ürümqi car market wasn’t developed enough to absorb all the Xiali sold on the East Coast. As you can see, all the above brands find themselves mainly on the budget end of the price scale.

Wuling Rongguang

As far as minivans are concerned, the Wuling Rongguang, Chery Minivan, Wuling Hongguang and Sunshine (in that order) are the most popular here.

Jonway UFO A380

To finish on the Chinese section of this report we go to the discovery of the day: I saw two Jonway UFO A380s and was very intrigued by the ‘UFO’ logo. It’s basically a copy of the second-generation Toyota RAV4 circa 2001.

Yet, even with all those models, Chinese brands still don’t dominate new car sales in Ürümqi. Foreign ones do.

Hyundai Verna in Ürümqi

Ürümqi centre

The new generation Volkswagen Jetta is quite successful here and I would bet on it holding the pole position in Ürümqi based on what I saw in 24 hours (keeping in mind I remained within the centre of town most of the time which puts a bias on my observations).

VW Jetta Ürümqi taxi

Still in line with the budget trend I described above, the Jetta is battling with the Hyundai Elantra Yuedong (previous generation) for the top spot. Korean carmakers are very successful here with the Hyundai Verna, Kia K2, Sportage, K3 and Hyundai Elantra Langdong (current gen) also very popular in this order.

Kia K3: notice the four different scripts on the sign

The VW Santana is now assembled in Ürümqi

The new generation VW Santana, assembled here since August 2013, is beginning to be a frequent sight and will almost certainly reach the podium in the near future. Other models towards the budget end of the scale I noticed more often here include the Chevrolet Sail and Skoda Octavia.

Nissan Sylphy

Nissan has a very strong presence in Ürümqi, notably due to the recently launched Sunny and Sylphy. The Qashqai is also a lot more frequent here than anywhere I’ve been before. Weirdly, in China, the Qashqai is still a slightly facelifted version of the very first model and not related to the one sold in Europe until early 2014. It’s definitely not even close to the second generation yet.

Toyota Prado

A few “off-budget trend” observations: The Buick Encore has started with a bang here and is already very frequent in town, as is the new generation Hyundai Santa Fe. I also spotted more Toyota Land Cruisers and Prados than their national sales would suggest, as well as one Ford F-150 Raptor and one Toyota Tundra. Yep, the American pickups are still going strong in Ürümqi!

Surprise: Ürümqi car buyers are very fond of the Renault Koleos.

One very interesting observation that will please French fans: I was very surprised to see many Renault Koleos in town, about 10 in only a few hours. Given they have to be imported at high cost, this is a very encouraging trend for the French manufacturer which will start production in China in 2016. However, I do not understand why Renault still isn’t planning to assemble and sell the low-cost Duster in China. Based on its success in neighbouring Russia and Kazakhstan, it should sell like hot cakes here!

Honda Crosstour near Ürümqi Bazaar

Finally, Honda (considered a premium brand in China) is very strong here with the City, Crosstour, Accord and (particularly) the CR-V all hitting the mark. Range Rover is doing a killing here with the Evoque. There is still a healthy amount of Audis, notably the A6L and the new A3 sedan.

Next we go further out, into the hinterland of the hinterland in Kashgar near the Pakistani border, so stay tuned.

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

Note: I travelled to Xinjiang Uyghur in May 2014. Since then, political tensions have meant that travelling in this area is not advised.

Matt Gasnier
Matt Gasnier

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3 of 6 comments
  • RideHeight RideHeight on Sep 25, 2015

    Again, fabulous, Matt! I hope you have additional outlets for the fruits of your travels and labors. Could you be building up to a book? I'm astonished at the normalcy of the scenes you encounter as Western China seem about as supportive of large cities and automotive consumption as the Sahara. Evidently there is much beyond mining and scrub agriculture to support a modern society there. Funny, but as in America, Chinese flyover country also seems to prefer domestic cars.

    • Matt Gasnier Matt Gasnier on Sep 27, 2015

      Thank you RideHeight! No additional outlets for now - but thinking about it! Are you a book publisher by any chance? :-) All the best, Matt

  • Great insight to a mostly unknown region in China! Most people know about Tibet but not of Xinjiang which is in the same boat. The Uyghurs, the majority in Xinjiang, as you said are much closer culturally to Central Asian people like Kazakhs and Uzbeks than to the Han Chinese. The central government's push to populate the region with more Han Chinese has lead to tensions. Curious fact, all of China is officially under one time zone but Xinjiang uses their own given how far it is from the rest of China.

  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.