Guillaume Saint

Managing Director, TNS Automotive APAC

 

How are Chinese brands doing? Who is the leader in the new energy vehicle sector? Which is the best booth?

 

These are the questions we asked ourselves before taking off for the Beijing International Auto Show. With China’s position as the world’s largest auto market, its annual auto show, which is held in Shanghai and Beijing in turns, has become one of the most important events for the global auto industry. There are several auto groups with multiple mainstream car brands, and it is always a challenge to differentiate positioning and communicate the brand clearly to the public. However, in this year’s Beijing Auto Show, which runs from April 25 till May 4 at China International Exhibition Centre, two groups of car manufacturers have made successful examples for the general public.

PSA, for example, have designed the booth of Peugeot to highlight its high-end, innovative positioning in order to communicate on dynamism and driving excellence benefits for car drivers. On a different territory, Citroen has moved from pure technology to technology that directly benefits drivers’ well-being and contributes to a more sustainable and responsible industry. Visitors can immediately perceive the emphasis on environment friendliness, recycled materials, serenity and comfort throughout the journey.

The same can be said for Hyundai Motor Group which owns Hyundai and KIA brands. We can see that Hyundai has been presented as a high-status mainstream brand, emphasizing status and an outstanding ride for mature consumers.

On the other hand, KIA is positioned as a much more dynamic sporty brand, full of excitement for younger people or younger-minded people. The eye catching and entertaining Kia X – Car zone, showcasing the X-men partnership and allowing visitors to make X-type pictures, illustrates this clear positioning towards entertaining excitement.

For the first time in a very long time, multiple brands under one group have been so clearly positioned. PSA and Hyundai Motor Group have set very good examples.

 

The continuous rise of Chinese confidence

Last year, the quality of most Chinese brands at the Shanghai Auto Show was very impressive. This year in Beijing, their brand confidence has grown even stronger, apparent in specific design expression consistent across the model range, expansion of NEV models, and self-confidence in shaking the traditional naming of powertrain technology, as compared to use of already coined words like Honda’s FunTec and Ford’s EcoBoost.

BYD’s 542 strategy refers to the results of its announcement on April 20, 2014 at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show, that all BYD vehicles will: 1) accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h within 5 seconds; 2) include full-time four wheel drive; 3) see fuel consumption of less than 2L per 100 km.

Changan’s 518 strategy refers to: 1) by 2025, its full EV and plug-in vehicles can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h within 5 seconds; 2) by 2025, its plug-in vehicles’ fuel consumption will be less than 1L per 100 km; 3) by 2025, its full EV vehicles’ per ton power consumption will be 8 kwh per 100 km.

These brands have remained on the course they’ve started to pursue at last year’s Shanghai Auto Show.

 

New energy vehicles

The trend of new energy vehicles has continued from last year’s Shanghai Auto Show, and has become even stronger. We’ve seen at every booth that every brand has put a new energy car on exhibit. New energy is no longer optional – it’s a mandate. If a car brand wants to succeed in China, it has to have new energy models in its product portfolio, given the increasingly strong push from Chinese central and local governments.

We’ve seen all the options that have been represented in the Beijing Auto Show. If there was any one brand that leads in the field of NEV, it would be Toyota: not from a technology perspective, but because of its go-to market pricing strategy to sell the hybrid versions of Corolla and Levin at almost the same price as the gasoline versions (ICE). This is an innovation in pricing strategy, as we know that the costs of hybrid powertrain are much higher than traditional ones. This bold move is Toyota’s statement of solid commitment to stay a step ahead in China’s auto market.

 

BMW, Mercedes-Benz

For the premium brands, BMW has the clearest commitment on new energy, its booth expressing a bigger statement in this field than both Mercedes-Benz and Audi. BMW has divided its booth into two parts: the left side is all about EV and hybrid sedans such as the i8 and i3, while the right side is all about driving excitement, as shown by its big slogan on the booth: “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. BMW displays new X4 and M series models as examples.

Through this arrangement, we can see that the brand clearly expresses its two strategic directions: continuous commitment towards driving pleasure and targeted focus on the new energy commitment.

It is interesting to see that this year, Mercedes-Benz has made crystal clear its outstanding status as a leading auto brand. For the visual, they secured the substantial silver three-pointed star logo on a backdrop of elegant black, and the LED screen that shows images of their vehicles stretches almost the length of an entire wall. Visitors can see that Mercedes-Benz is all about “me” – not just about its newly launched personalized service in China, but also about its brand positioning. “Anytime and anywhere, it’s all about me.” This also fits impeccably with Mercedes-Benz’s slogan: “The best or nothing.”

Every element in the booth stresses that Mercedes-Benz is the ultimate leader in auto brands. Simply magnificent, Daqi, “大气”.

 

Super luxury brands

For the super luxury brands, compared to last year’s Shanghai Auto Show with its big fleet of SUVs, it is fortunate that Porsche has returned to its roots. It displayed 911 at the fore front of the booth, also launching three new models (718 Cayman, 718 Boxster and 911 Targa 4) consistent with the original soul of Porsche: fast, two-seat, sport.

Some roads have two-way traffic. Other super luxury brands, such as Maserati and Bentley, have promoted the expansion of their portfolio by introducing Levante and Bentayga SUVs. It is understandable that they’re doing this to reach minimum volume of cars sold and thereby exist on growing markets such as China and India.

 

Breakthrough companies: Tesla, Le Eco.

Breakthrough companies, such as Tesla and Le Eco., are masters in driving attention onto themselves, no matter if it’s news about the products (like Tesla with its astonishing Model X at the exhibition), its business model (everybody heard about the out-of-the-box preordering for 325,000 units of Tesla Model 3 that allowed the brand to leverage an amazing million dollars cash from deposit and USD14 billion in potential sales), or its founders’ vision and personality.

At Le Eco., the company has successfully generated attention and buzz for its ecosystem, which includes mobile phone, TV sets, content network, naming rights & sponsorship of China Super League football club Beijing Guo’an, and partnership with Aston Martin. Jia Yueting, the founder of Le Eco., drew a very large crowd on the stand.

For these breakthrough brands, they must be viral and create a very high volume of buzz all the time. They need to be trailblazers on all aspects: the design and production of their cars, their go-to market approach, the way they present and sell the car, and their founders’ public image.

Perhaps there are some interesting tips there for the so-called traditional OEMs to stay tuned with the fast changing marketing automotive landscape.

 

Best booth of the show: Ford

Unlike some other booths which are reminiscent of an enlarged and upgraded sales center, Ford has spent much effort in creating an experiential journey at their booth for people to feel and touch the excitement the brand can bring.

Ford puts niche models in the center, SUVs on one end, and sedans on the other. It has also created multiple small spaces at the booth where visitors can experience the brand through mini-games.

The reception is very welcoming. There is no front desk which blocks the entrance, and the theme is for people to come experience the brands’ progress in the past year and share it. The staff members are also very approachable – they’re the only staff members whose T-shirts say: “Please Ask Me”.

The goal of the booth design has also been well supplemented by its official WeChat subscription, which calls for followers to play a game for a chance to win one of 200 tickets for the show in order to experience Ford technology in person.

Behind the emphasis on interaction with fans and brand experience is Ford’s announcement to launch the FordPass service in China, which includes an “app market”, a mobility personal assistant for every Ford owner, a loyalty points program, and four FordHubs to be opened worldwide for people to experience the brand. One FordHub will be built in Shanghai.