The Chinese car market is the largest in the world, and has been since 2009. 2016 sales are on target to be in excess of 23 million units. Aside from a strong foreign market for manufacturers like Audi, China has several domestic brands, and partner with other manufactures in joint ventures.
High end cars foreign cars in China sell at a significant premium, with a Ferrari 512 Berlinetta, for example, selling for $323,745 in the US market, and $810,000 in the Chinese market due to high taxes on engines four liters and above. Nonetheless, high end brands continue to sell quickly among wealthy Chinese citizens.
Fortunately, less wealthy Chinese citizens pay less for affordable cars than citizens of other countries, thanks to China producing the most inexpensive cars in the world in nearly every category. The Jiangnan TT with a 36 horsepower 0.7 liter three cylinder engine, for example, sells for just $3,177.
The fastest growing car market in China is currently among new energy vehicles; electrics, and hybrids. However, this still accounts for less than 1% of the market. China offers incentives for new energy vehicles such as free license plates, parking, rebates, and an ever increasing presence of public charging stations in an attempt to address a serious problem with air pollution.
Let’s take a look at 30 Chinese cars, which you may never have heard of, that are helping to drive the largest car market in the world.
30. Geely – Emgrand 7
The Emgrand 7 is designed with European standards and meets those standards for environmental safety, security and quality. The design is elegant and aerodynamic. This 4-door high performance mid-sized sedan or hatchback comfortably seats 5 in an interior that rivals that of any luxury brand. Two engine configurations are available: 1.5-liter I4, or 1.8-liter I4, paired with 5-speed manual transmission. The Emgrand 7 is currently the bestselling sedan in China.
29. Geely – GC5
The GC5 is a joint effort between Geely and legendary auto designer Fabrizio Giugiaro. This compact 5-door hatchback is modern, stylish, and loaded with the latest in technical innovations. The interior is constructed of high quality eco-friendly materials, has comfortable seating for 5, and rear seats fold back for additional storage space. The engine is a B-4G15, paired with a 5-speed transmission.
28. BAIC – BJ20 Concept
The BJ 20 concept car by Beijing Auto (BAIC) was launched at the 2015 Shanghai Motor Show, and it appears to be a variant of the BJ40, a vehicle influenced by the Jeep Cherokee. The engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter and it is built with body-on-frame construction. A 1.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder variant is also available. The design is bright and stylish, with a distinctive front end. It sells for around $12,900 US.
27. BAIC – BJ80C
The BJ80C is an entry into the full size SUV market, very reminiscent of the Jeep. Two engine configurations are available, a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, and a 4.0-liter 6-cylinder. There is also a standard mode, and a safari-style edition that includes, of all things, a snorkel kit. Mercedes partnered with Beijing Auto to design the BJ80C, which many have dubbed a clone of the G-Wagen. In addition to similarities on the exterior, the interior includes a nearly identical dashboard to that found in the G-Wagen.
26. Brilliance Auto – Jinbei Geruisi
The Jinbei Geruisi is a large passenger van with modern styling and grace. It can easily accommodate up to 11 passengers in the roomy interior. It has 4 doors, including 2 rear sliding doors. It is available with 2.0-, 2.4-, or 2.7-liter engine paired with 5-speed manual transmission, and has peak power of 98/102/111 horsepower. It is priced starting at $22,372 US.
25. Jinbei – Hiase
The Jinbei Hiase has been in production since the 1970s and is now in its fifth generation. Jinbei partners with Toyota on the Haise, and the structure is based on the Toyota HiAce and it is a long-wheelbase high-roof van/mini-bus. The engine is a 4-cylinder DOHC engine, with standard gas or diesel variants available. The engine pairs with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. All trims include Toyota’s G-Book, which includes internet enhanced GPS and telematics. This van is a popular choice for commercial or private use.
24. BAIC – EV200
This 4-door hatchback is all electric and runs on a 30.4 kwh lithium ion battery. China offers rebates that cover more than one-third of the price when consumers opt for this environmentally friendly vehicle. The top speed of this vehicle is around 77 mph, and you can get most of the way to 77 mph in 13 seconds. A quick charger gets you to 80% battery in just 30 minutes, and you can get a full charge with a standard charger in 6-8 hours. The range is an impressive 125 miles per charge.
23. BAIC – Senova D20 Hatchback
This 5-door hatchback is a rebadged version of Beijing Auto’s successful E series, and is offered in 7 different trims with something sure to appeal to just about everyone. Buyers can choose between a 1.3- or 1.5-liter 4 cylinder engine, paired with 5-speed manual, or 4-speed automatic transmission. There’s some desirable features built in to the Senova D20, including alloy wheels, “follow me home” lights, a power sunroof, and lots of power functions. Starting at $7,952 US, this model is popular with millennials.
22. BAIC – EX200 EV
The EX200 EV is a compact all-electric that was launched earlier this year. It’s got a range of 125 miles per charge, and variants with ranges of up to 185 miles are expected. On the downside, the top speed is around 40 mph, making it an impractical choice for all but city driving. The interior includes a large touch screen display and has a retro feel to the dash design. The outside is as stylish as many compacts available in the US market.
21. SAIC-GM-Wuling – Baojun 310
The 310 debuted at the Beijing Motor Show earlier this year, with a scheduled release date in the second half of the year. 4 trim levels are available, and the engine is a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with 5-speed manual transmission. The 310 is just 13.2 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, and 4.8 feet tall, taking compact to a whole new level. Prices start at just $5,600 US. SAIC-GM-Wuling is a joint venture of Wuling, GM, and SAIC (Shanghai Automotive).
20. SAIC-GM-Wuling – SGMW Baojun Lechi
The Lechi may look familiar to many Americans, since it is a rebadged version of the first generation of the Chevy Spark. A super-mini, little power is required from the 1.0-liter engine that has 60 horsepower on the low end, and 84 horsepower in more powerful configurations. It is far smaller than the brand’s 310, but is advertised as seating 5. Select models include a Sport package, and there are a number of power options and high tech features throughout.
19. Changan – BenBen EV
The gas-powered BenBen is popular and is the top selling model in the Chinese mini market, and this year, an all-electric version has been released. The electric motor generates 75 horsepower, and 165 lb-ft of torque. It has a top speed of 77 mph, and can travel 125 miles on a single charge. It sells for $8,372 US.
18. Dongfeng – Fengxing Jingyi S50 EV
Dongfeng Motors created the Fengxing brand, which manufactures the popular Jingyi line. The Jingyi S50 sedan has been a top seller, and now Dongfeng has introduced the S50 EV. This compact sedan with smart styling generates 120 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It has a top speed of 93 mph, making it faster than some other offerings on the Chinese market. The range per charge is 155 miles. The S50 goes on sale during the first quarter of 2017 and will be priced at $16,800 US.
17. Guangzhou Auto – Trumpchi GS4 EV
Guangzhou Auto introduced a popular SUV that now accounts for more than half the company’s total sales. Now they’re looking to capitalize on that success by offering an all-electric version of that same model, the Trumpchi GS4 EV. Sporty and luxurious, the GS4 has a 140 horsepower engine that produces 250 lb-ft of torque. It has a top speed of 75 mph, and a range per charge of 159 miles. It’s a great deal at $21,700 US.
16. Beijing Hyundai – Langdong
Hyundai and Beijing Auto teamed up to offer a China-exclusive version of the Elantra, called the “Langdong.” It includes all the bells and whistles of the Elantra, and features an aggressive styling that includes wrap-around headlights, and streamlined sides that sweep back dramatically. It offers the convenience of a compact, and the comfort of a mid-size. Buyers can choose between a 1.6-liter or 1.8-liter engine, and includes options for 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. Inside, drivers will find a navigation system, fully adjustable power seats, LCD instrument display, and push button start. There’s also the advanced BlueLink infotainment system, and a raft of advanced safety features.
15. BYD Auto – Qin
This plug-in hybrid is rumored to be moving into US and European markets soon, a rumor fueled by BYD Auto’s decision to open an American headquarters in California. The engine is an inline 3 that generates 291 horsepower and 353 lb-ft of torque. It can go from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 115 mph. The Qin combines elements of BYD’s F3DM plug-in hybrid and Su Rui sedan. It hit the market in 2013, with this latest model available since late 2015.
14. Shanghai-VW Santana
China had been mass producing Volkswagens since 1985, finally taking them out of production in 2012. The Santana has been the standard for Chinese taxi services and police forces for years, and has received gradual updates over time. Many of the older models are still for sale as used vehicles, and are appreciated for their simplicity. This vehicle was based on the second generation VW Passat.
13. Volvo – S90 L
Debuting at the Guangzhou Auto Show this year, the Volvo S90 L 3-seater is manufactured in Daquing, China and will hit Chinese markets by the year’s end. This one is not exclusive to China – it will export to the US and Europe in the second half of 2017. The S90L is a variant of the S90 sedan, and offers a longer wheelbase that affords increased room for rear passengers. It’s expected to compete with other high performance models, such as the Audi A6L, BMW 5Li, and Jaguar XFL. Look for it to be the most luxurious offering from Volvo to date.
12. Dongfeng-Yueda-Kia Horki 300EV
A compact electric sedan, a single charge of this electric will get you about 175 miles down the road, and maybe 190 if you keep the speed under 37 mph. It takes about 11 seconds to hit 62 mph.
11. BAIC – Borgward BX5
The Borgward BX5 will debut in the Chinese market sometime next year. This SUV was first introduced as a concept car, and is now ready for mass production. It features a large front grille, shiny bumper, small wheels, and a compelling set of headlamps. Buyers can choose from 3 engines configurations; a 1.8-liter turbo, 1.4-lliter turbo, and a 1.4-liter turbo hybrid. The 1.8L pairs with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while other configurations pair with a 7-speed DCT. It’s got some great technology onboard, including automatic parking, stability control, hill-descent control, power tailgate, 2 USB ports, and a good old fashioned cigarette lighter.
10. Jiangling Motors-Changan Auto – Landwind X7
Bearing a striking similarity to the Range Rover Evoque, the Landwind X7 will set you back less than one-third of the price, at $19,600 US. Offered in a joint venture between Jiangling Motors and Changan Auto, the X7 is their best-selling Landwind ever. It is outfitted with a Mitsubishi sourced 2.0-liter turbo engine that produces 190 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an 8-speed automatic.
9. Changan Auto – The Raeton
The Raeton was modeled upon the 6th generation Toyota Camry and is the flagship of Changan’s sedan lineup. It debuted as a concept car in 2009 at the Shanghai Motor Show and went into mass production in 2012. Several trims are available, along with 2 engine configurations, a 1.8-liter turbo and a 2.0-liter delivering 130 and 116 horsepower respectively. Onboard technology includes cruise control, one-touch engine start, power windows and door locks, xenon automatic headlights, and seating with a massage feature. Models begin at $15,372 US.
8. Shanghai Auto-Wuling – Baojun 510 SUV
An entry level brand of the Shanghai Auto-Wuling joint venture, the Boajun has a brilliant styling that gives the appearance of being…angry. The edgy design of the Baojun continues on the inside, with a combined analog/digital dashboard, large touchscreen display, and gorgeous leather seating. The engine is a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with 112 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. A 1.5-liter turbo will be added at a later date. Pricing begins at $9,100 US.
7. Daimler-BYD – Denza EV
The Denza, inspired by the Mercedes Benz B-Class, hit Chinese markets in 2014, and suffers from a multitude of design flaws, including a vehicle structure that requires massive reinforcements to carry the 47.5 kwh lithium phosphate battery pack. The electric motor generates 115 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. Speeds top out at 93 mph. A full charge takes 7 hours, and the range is 186 miles. Fast-charging stations decrease charging time considerably. The cabin is spacious, and comfortably seats 5 and includes a lot of luxurious extras to justify the nearly $60,000 US price tag.
6. Geely – Meirenbao
Geely introduced the first Chinese made sports car in the Meirenbao in 2003. The engine is a small 1.3 liter that produces 85 horsepower and still manages a top speed of 111 mph. It’s a sexy number, with alluring alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, rear lights, chrome fuel tank cover, and you can add a sporty after-market exhaust for a little extra fierceness. Steering is sharp, the 5-speed manual transmission shifts with ease, and the tiny engine revs like a tiger. It’s now discontinued, but there are still a few on the road and the car has attained something of a cult status over time.
5. Dongfeng – Xialong
This Hummer clone is a licensed copy of the H1, including the Hummer chassis and optional US built powerful V8 engine. Where it takes liberty with the original design is in the size. It’s even larger than the H1 at nearly 17 feet in length and weighing a formidable 7.937 pounds. The standard engine is a Steyr-designed, Chinese manufactured 3.2 liter diesel 6 cylinder with 184 horsepower.
4. Beijing Auto-Chrysler – The Knight S12
Manufactured between 1984 and 2009 by joint venture between Beijing Auto and Chrysler, the Knight S12 has a distinctly Jeep Cherokee facade because it is, in fact, the Jeep Cherokee. Chrysler pulled out in 2009, and Beijing Auto continues to offer the Knight S12 with a redesigned interior and (according to Beijing Auto) “Chinese” engines, which are actually the old Nissan 2.0- and 2.2-liter engines.
3. SAIC GM – Buick LaCrosse Hybrid Electric
Buick partnered with Shanghai Auto to offer the LaCrosse HEV as part of their joint venture’s “Drive to Green” strategy. The LaCrosse is powered by a 1.8-liter engine paired and offers electronic climate control, power steering, and exhaust thermal energy recycling. It goes from 0-62 mph in just 8.9 seconds.
2. BYD Auto – F6
This mid-sized sedan is based on the Honda Accord and offers two engine configurations, the 2.0-liter with manual transmission, and 2.4-liter with automatic transmission. The engines are Mitsubishi designed. It generates 138 horsepower and 137 lb-ft of torque, and a top speed of 115 mph.
1. Jia Yueting, LeEco – Le* Car
Entrepreneur Jia Yueting hopes to rival the Tesla with China’s own Le* Car supercar. Many have heard of the Renault LeCar. In French, le means “the”, but in Mandarin, it means “happy.” Still under development, but scheduled to hit the market in 2018, the Le* Car is expected to be high end, high performing, and luxurious.
The interior and body styling appear to be the spitting image of Tesla’s Model S, with a little bit of Lexus, Audi and Maserati added in for good measure. The interior, wheelbase, door pillars, and instrumentation also appear to be cribbed directly from the Model S. Look for hidden door handles, a 17” touchscreen, and a whopping 384 horsepower that will hit 62 mph in 5.5 seconds. A 30-minute turbo charge is rumored to provide a 286 mile range.
Jia Yeuting has invested $1.2 billion in this project, claims the plans are finalized, and a team of 600 have already been hired to produce China’s answer to the Tesla. If it pans out, this may be the most exciting car to have come out China to date.