China 2015: Cars of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

Dongfeng Pickup at Kashgar livestock market

After Ürümqi, we are now headed 670 miles (1,080 km) south-west to the hinterland of the hinterland: Kashgar. It’s China’s westernmost city and predominantly populated by Muslim Uyghurs.

To give you a rough idea of what Kashgar looks like, the city stood in for Kabul in Afghanistan in the movie “The Kite Runner”. In fact, Kashgar is 2,100 miles (3,400 km) away from Beijing by air, but only 500 miles (816 km) separate it from Kabul, 390 miles (722 km) from Peshawar, Pakistan, 1,200 miles (2,200 km) from Tehran, Iran, and 1,600 miles (2,900 km) from Baghdad, Iraq.

Kashar is the westernmost city in China.

I visited parts of town, such as the livestock bazaar and a few commercial side alleys, that were populated almost exclusively by pickup trucks. With such a bewildering array of little-known brands and models, it was a fascinating experience.

In the three days I spent in town, the only non-Chinese pickups I spotted were Isuzu TFs, a couple of Nissan D22s and two Ford F-150 Raptors (yes, they’re still there!) — and there were only around a dozen total. The rest, hundreds of them, were all Chinese pickups.

If the trucks look familiar at first glance, take a closer look. It might appear American, but it’s likely Chinese. Even I didn’t know some of the brands! I always say you never stop learning with the Chinese car market, but this has never been more true than here in Kashgar.

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

Guarding his Chana pickup with pride.

Kashgar’s Sunday livestock market is by far the biggest in the region and attracts farmers from the entire district. It’s one of the most authentic markets I have ever had the chance to visit. You better watch out for loose cows and galloping horses on a ‘test ride’ or you’ll risk getting impaled or stomped on!

I was the only foreigner in the market — and actually one of only a couple of foreigners in the entire 500,000-inhabitant city — and triggered more than a few curious looks. Almost all returned my smile and responded to my ‘as-salaam aleikum’ as I quickly learnt ‘Ni hao’ (Chinese for hello) would only be met with a blank stare. Most Uyghurs don’t speak Chinese. This simply means you have to add one line written in Arabic script above the Chinese on your note to taxi drivers to be sure you arrive at the right destination. Simple, right?

Wuling Rongguang pickup

Wuling Rongguang pickup

Foton Forland

Howo pickup

Yuejin pickup

Heibao HFJ1027

Back to the livestock bazaar. It was literally pickup heaven. Among mini pickup trucks, the default choice was between Chana or Wuling Rongguang. There were a myriad of other options on display, including very similar-looking Jinbei and Dongfeng pickups, but also low-cost Lifan pickups. Heavy pickup brands include Foton Forland, Howo and, unbeknownst to me until then, Yuejin and Heibao (all pictured in order above).

ZX Auto Grand Tiger (previous gen)

ZX Auto Grand Tiger (current gen)

Great branding on the back of a ZX Auto Grand Tiger. Surprisingly, only Jinbei and Foton do the same.

Among one-ton pickups, a segment shared by the Toyota Hilux (not imported in China), the very similar-looking ZX Auto Grand Tiger is king in Kashgar. Both previous and current generations, as well as the previous generation, Hilux-lookalike ZX Auto Admiral, were well represented. ZX Auto has built a very strong reputation in Chinese rural areas thanks to these two models. Huge badging on the back of each pickup — once again a la Toyota — helps with their local recognition, something only Jinbei and sometimes Foton do as well.

JMC Baodian (previous gen)

JMC Baodian (current gen)

JMC Yuhu

The first generation JMC Baodian, basically a slightly modified 1992 Isuzu TF, is the second most popular pickup in Kashgar. However, JMC buyers seem to have transferred to the 2013 Yuhu rather than the new generation Baodian; the latter is much less frequent.

Great Wall Wingle

Great Wall Deer

I would place the Great Wall Wingle in third place. It’s been the best-selling pickup nationally for the past 16 consecutive years. The Great Wall Deer, another pickup looking very much like the previous-generation Toyota Hilux, is also very popular.

JAC Reni

Huanghai Plutus

CHTC Tuteng T1

But all these pickups are models you know already if you’re a regular BSCB reader, so here’s some exoticism for you.

Even though it’s never officially been on sale in China, the American Chevrolet Colorado has fathered a few children here in the form of the JAC Reni, Huanghai Plutus and CHTC Tuteng T1. You’re welcome. CHTC stands for China High-Tech Group Corporation and it just launched the Tuteng T3, a pickup truck mimicking the last generation Great Wall Wingle!

The title of most blatant copycat goes to the Kafei K1 with its distinct air of previous-generation Ford F-150.

Tianqi Meiya Lucheng TN1020A

Jinbei SY1025

The Isuzu D-Max also has spawned many copycats in China, including the Tianqi Meiya Lucheng TN1020A, Jinbei SY1025, Foton SUP, Xinkai HXK1021, Gonow Troy, Dadi BDD1022 and a dozen more sold under many obscure brands.

Huanghai Landscape

Dongfeng Rich

The Huanghai Landscape, mimicking a first generation Kia Sorento pickup, is also very frequent in town. Also popular is the Dongfeng Rich, based on the Nissan D22 that Dongfeng also produces.

That’s all for the Kashgar pickup update. Now onto passenger cars …

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

Kashgari man and Jonway UFO A380

In Kashgar, the new versus used car ratio is much wider than in Ürümqi, but similarly around 40-percent of vehicles on the road are Chinese — buses and taxis not included. So even though we are the furthest we can get from Beijing while still staying within the confines of China’s borders, loyalty to local brands is still much stronger than in the capital.

It is impossible for me to determine whether national loyalty is more a necessity than a choice. However, at equal spec, a Chinese model tends to be much cheaper than a foreign one. As usual, there is no black and white answer. I’d guess it’s 70-percent necessity and 30-percent choice.

ChangAn Eado in Kashgar Old Town

Kashgar Sunday bazaar

Tellingly, the composition of the automotive landscape varies greatly from Ürümqi, especially on the non-Chinese side. There are a lot more new Korean models and old VW Santanas in Kashgar. When you add the fact that almost all taxis are either Santanas or Santana Vistas and that taxis represent roughly one in every four cars in circulation in Kashgar, that adds up to a lot of old VWs on the streets.

Two generations of VW Santana

If taxi companies seem to be moving on to the new Jetta (more) and new Santana (less), the public is yet to be convinced. The valiant 1986 Santana is still by far the most common private Volkswagen, a testimony of almost two decades of domination of the Chinese sales charts and 3 million units produced. The Kashgari car landscape shows you that the Santana is the car that kick-started the Chinese automotive industry. Additionally, many Santana owners in Kashgar haven’t had the need or the budget to replace them yet. When it ain’t broke, why replace it?

VW Jetta taxi

I only saw a couple of privately owned, new Jettas and Santanas in Kashgar, and very few new Lavidas, Sagitars, Magotans and Passats. Volkswagen has nowhere near the market share in Kashgar that it holds in the bigger cities I explored earlier. However, to regain the budget end of the market in the Xinjiang Uyghur province, Volkswagen decided in 2013 to build a factory in Ürümqi to assemble Santanas.

First generation VW Santana in Kashgar Old Town

Another observation that chips away at the Volkswagen Group’s domination nationally is the near-absence of Audis in Kashgar, a frank contrast to Beijing and Shanghai for example. That doesn’t mean there are no luxury cars in Kashgar, but the choice of wealthier car buyers seems to be more oriented towards higher-end Japanese models like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Prado, Highlander, Crown and Camry.

The Nissan Tiida is among the top-sellers in Kashgar

There are nearly no new Fords here except a few current-generation Kugas and, as mentioned earlier in the series, more Hyundais and Kias. However, the biggest difference between Kashgar and the rest of the cities I’ve visited so far is the surprising strength of Nissan — potentially the #1 brand outright in town — fighting with Wuling. There is a very strong showing of Tiidas and a lot of Livinas and Qashqais as well. Honda is selling a very large number of new-generation CR-Vs and Suzuki is the third over-performing Japanese brand in town with lots of Lingyangs and already quite a few S-Crosses spotted.

Two Chery QQ in Kashgar old town, a popular model here.

Among Chinese manufacturers, the particularity of Kashgar is the solid heritage of Chery QQ, especially in the Old Town where they basically form half of the car landscape. Although I spotted three new-generation QQs, the diminutive model seems to have lost the battle of the minis to the ChangAn Benben Mini as of late. Chery stays strong in other segments with the E5, Tiggo 5 and Cowin 1, however.

Shanghai Englon SC7

That’s it for the brands. Now onto the best-selling new cars in Kashgar. As always, it is extremely difficult to estimate this with any kind of reliability based on just the cars I’ve seen in 72 hours — but here goes!

I would say the Wuling Hongguang, Nissan Tiida, Kia K2, Chana Taurustar and Shanghai Englon SC7 are all fighting for top spot.

Wuling Hongguang

If most models here were also strong in Ürümqi, it was fascinating to notice the progressive gearing-up of the Wuling Hongguang the more we go into the hinterland and confirming that its national pole position has a lot to do with success in the really rural areas of the country.

Watching the Great Wall C30s go by…

Other models that could place in a Top 10 spot in Kashgar include the Honda CR-V, Chana Minibus, ChangAn CX20, previous- and current-generation Kia Sportage (both are still sold in China), Great Wall Voleex C30, Chana Honor, GAC Trumpchi GS5, Nissan Qashqai, Honda City and Landwind X5. That’s eight Chinese models versus seven non-Chinese, confirming the strength of local brands in the Chinese hinterland.

Chana Minibus

Other popular new models in Kashgar include the SsangYong Korando, Shanghai Englon SC6, Chevrolet Sail, ChangAn Eado, Hyundai Tucson, Great Wall Voleex C10 and M4, BYD F3 Surui, GAC Gonow Aoosed G5, Jonway UFO A380, Hyundai ix35 and Elantra Yuedong. I also spotted one Iran Khodro Sahir (aka Samand). Remember, Kashgar is closer to Tehran than Beijing!

GAC Trumpchi GS5

Lastly a lot of you have asked about pollution levels in Chinese cities. Well, in Kashgar, a mix of questionable exhaust fumes and heavy dust had me yearning for a shower at the end of each day more than I ever have in my life! It’s simple: The mere fact of stepping outside instantly covers you with a thin layer of dust. The only time a car is clean is within 5 minutes of having been washed – at most.

Electric scooters in Kashgar

Kashgar’s solution to pollution for now is to seemingly make all scooters available here electric. The fact is there are way more scooters than cars in town so it gives for a weirdly futuristic experience of walking down the street with completely silent scooters whizzing all around you at breakneck speed. Some electric scooter brands I noticed included Huawin, Benod, Hong Psi, Xuanma, Yadea and Luvju.

That’s all for Kashgar! I hope you enjoyed. Next we go on the legendary Karakoram Highway to stop just short off 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 26 comments
  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Oct 03, 2015

    Some years back, '06 or '07, there was a company called Chamco that said they were going to start importing the ZX Grand Tiger and a related SUV to the United States. After lining up dealers, their contract got canceled by ZX and the last record I can find about them was that they were placed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. I believe there were also lawsuits and allegations of fraud. During the NAIAS one year they rented a ballroom at the Westin in the RenCen, down the street from Cobo, trying to drum up business from potential dealers. The vehicles, which undoubtedly had been detailed to a fare-thee-well, were not quite ready for prime time but more impressive than I expected.

  • Shaker Shaker on Oct 04, 2015

    A fascinating variety of cultural and vehicular elements on display here; the bucolic Market, the scooter-packed City (the colorfully-clad young lady riding side-saddle on the scooter stood out to me :-) The mixture of Chinese and Arabic scripts on the signage seems to qualify this place as one of those legendary "Ends of the Earth" places. The vehicles are amazingly up-to-date looking, no doubt due to the excellent Chinese mimicry of designs from capitalist countries. The Colorado clones really stand out. A sort of "Mos Eisley" environment, but without the "scum and villainy" aspect - but you left out any views of the nightlife (if any) there.

    • PandaBear PandaBear on Oct 05, 2015

      Consider automobiles were not common until around 10 years ago, having up to date vehicle means you can't get anything but new vehicles or recent models used from the more wealthy part of China. Electric scooters are everything in major cities along the coast too. A lot of the cities have stopped giving out gasoline scooter registrations for years.

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂