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8 new owners share their Geely stories

I remember the first time I test drove a Geely brand. This was in 2008, and the Geely CK 1.3E MR sedan that rolled into our office garage to be taken out for a spin was courtesy of Pan Fil Inter Trade Co, Geely’s then local distributor. That hatchback featuring fold flat rear seats was priced at P387,000.

Driving it up to Tagaytay along with other test drive units of comparable dimensions, that Geely was quite unremarkable. The price certainly caught our attention, but the fact that the brand name was a stranger to the Philippines, and it had very few dealerships, made Geely’s first foray into the country equally forgettable.

Since then, however, Geely had made remarkable leaps and bounds in the world automotive stage. In mid-2008, the Chinese brand approached Ford for a possible takeover of Volvo Cars. According to The Guardian, on October 28, 2009, Geely was named the preferred buyer of Volvo by the American automaker. A deal was reached in late March and completed in early August 2010. Later on, in 2017, Geely purchased a 49.9-percent stake in Proton Holdings of Malaysia and 51 percent in UK’s Lotus, both owned by Malaysian automotive group DRB-Hicom, for a total of $235 million.

These moves cemented Geely’s reputation as among the most aggressively expansionist of China’s four large independent carmakers. According to automotive journalist Tony Lewin, Geely’s acquisition of Volvo made Geely a significant player in the global auto business as well as in China’s internal market that now stands as the largest in the world. Unlike its major competitors in China, Geely hasn’t benefited from technology transfer from a western partner; instead, it has been a largely independent operator and has developed most of its own intellectual properties.

This was the global context of the Geely Coolray crossover SUV that was lent to me a week ago. The difference of 12 years and an expansionist strategy was astounding to be expressed in one vehicle.

This one now came to my garage care of Sojitz Corp, which acquired distributorship rights for Geely Auto in the Philippines starting July 2019, establishing Sojitz G Auto Philippines Corp (SGAP) as a fully owned subsidiary to import and sell Geely-brand vehicles in the country.

This was a completely different Geely in front of me. And my “oohs” and “ahs” didn’t subside during the entire week it was in my employ. The design touches, ride technologies, safety inputs, the creature comforts—these all seemed to have gone into hyperspeed with Geely and congregated all at once on the Coolray.

It came to me like a European-designed crossover, with absolutely no bad angles—a car photographer’s dream. Inside, the level of sophistication continued. The 10.25 multimedia touch screen was visually arresting, especially when I accessed the 360-degree cameras, with high-resolution displays of the surroundings when I would signal in either direction. This virtually eliminated all blind spots, and especially useful when I was surrounded by motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. The dashboard, side panels and seats with maroon hues exuded elegance. The dashboard display’s uncluttered digital format showed only what I needed to know as a driver at the moment.

The engine—a turbocharged G-Power 1.5-liter 3-cylinder with dual VVT—felt powerful enough even on normal mode, and didn’t feel underpowered even on eco-mode. I didn’t even feel the need to try the sport mode. For the few days that I got to drive the Coolray, I got an average fuel consumption readout of 13 km per liter (combined highway and city), not bad considering that the rush hours during general community quarantine in Metro Manila came with moderate to heavy traffic.

On paper, the engine is rated to generate a maximum 177hp at 5,500 rpm and max torque of 255Nm from 1,500 to 4,000 rpm, managed by a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.

As expected, this Coolray Sport version is the most “guapo” of the lot, fully made up with its spoiler, quad tail pipes and the 215/55 R18 tires. A quick on-paper comparison of the Coolray with its direct competitors the Hyundai Kona, Ford Ecosport, Suzuki Vitara and MG ZS, showed that the vehicle I was in was tops, feature-for-feature. Perhaps the only downside to owning a Geely Coolray right now is that only Geely North Edsa is open at the moment (according to the website www.geelyph.com), but it also promises that 11 more dealerships would open soon.

Speaking of ownership, I do recognize that owning a car—you know, buying it with your own hard-earned money and being stuck with it until you decide to part ways by selling or trading it—is vastly different from just taking it out on a weeklong spin. I’ve gushed about the Coolray, but do actual Coolray owners share my enthusiasm? So, I got in touch with members of the Geely CoolRay Owners Club PH. Here’s what they have to say.

Before opting for the Coolray, Ed Simeon, 52, a company president who owns a sport variant, checked the Hyundai Kona, Ford Eco-Boost, Chery 5 and 8, Toyota Innova, Rush and Honda CRV. Aloysius Gonzaga, 25, who’s in information security and owns a premium variant, first checked the Toyota Fortuner, Rush, Vios, and Wigo, the Honda Civic 1.8, City VX Navi, and Brio AT. Ej Ocampo, 35, an executive who owns a sport variant, looked at the Kona, MG ZS, and Subaru XV. John Hans Obeng Caturas, a 23-year-old nurse who owns a sport variant with the Vermillion color, looked at the MG RX5 Alpha and Ford Ecosport Titanium. Jay Santos, 36, a senior iOS developer who owns a red sports variant, was initially considering the Ecosport, Kona, and Nissan Juke. Mechanical engineer Norman Enoza, 40, who owns a Vermillion colored sport variant, was considering the Kona, Kia Seltos, Subaru XV, MG ZS, MG RX5, Suzuki Vitara, and Honda Civic RS Turbo (“But the missus didn’t want a sedan,” he said). IT country manager Don Cruz, 45, who also owns a Sport variant, initially considered buying a Kona and MG. Logistics planner Sarah Nillas, 28, who owns a red Coolray sport, said she watched “all the videos in YouTube and the Coolray was THE contender and not pricey at all”.

What made you buy the Coolray?

“The price, its cutting-edge interior and more added features that you would normally find only in more expensive vehicles, such as 360-degree camera, auto start, keyless entry, 6 air bags, and self-parking,” quipped Simeon.

“The sunroof, sensors, auto start, smart entry, push start, auto hold, 3 drive modes, leather seats, and the aesthetics,” said Gonzaga.

“The 360-degree camera, built-in dashcam and the turbocharged engine,”  said Ocampo.

“The 360 cam, built in DVR (Sport variant only) and the Nappa seats. Geely has done a very good job for the placement of the 360 cam that it is almost seamless, the built in DVR with driver input feature is handy for accidents and disputes and should come as standard to all cars knowing our road culture. Lastly, the Nappa leather seat cools down a minute or two when you turn on the aircon, unlike the synthetic/real leather counterparts which take longer,” said Caturas. (Author’s note: We learned from SGAP that the leather wasn’t Nappa, nor was it sourced from animals).

Santos: “I was first attracted to their auto park assist and 360 panorama features which only Geely offered in the vehicles that we were checking out. Next were the blind spot detection, sunroof, hill ascend and descend assist, cruise control, ISOFIX and an awesome-looking interior.”

Enoza: “All of it for a nice price tag. But if I have to choose, it was the driving performance and the auto-park.”

Nillas: “Overall, the interior and the warranty.” (The Geely Coolray offers a 5-year warranty or 150,000 km, whichever comes first)

Cruz: “The interior setup really pushed me to get the Coolray, plus its 1.5 engine.”

Geely is a new player, why risk it?

Simeon: “Since Geely is still new to the market with the models they are bringing in to the Philippines, we still don’t know what the resale value will be should we decide to sell or trade in the vehicle in the future. I still decided on the Coolray because, after looking at all the other vehicles, the Coolray stood out amongst them all and to me, it is still the best bang for the buck.”

Gonzaga: “I did some research and found out this brand is currently handled by Sojitz which was a former stake holder of Mitsubishi. Knowing their capabilities and reputation in the auto industry is enough for me and how Geely has been improving in the past years.”

Ocampo said that he once saw Geely featured in an international auto website. “I decided to test drive it and I was pretty impressed with how this new player offered high-end features way better in its class. As soon as I got home, I researched on Sojitz and Geely, and I was impressed with the big changes they made for the past 10 years. Knowing that they now own Volvo and Lotus, I never had a doubt about this car since it has some shared specs with the Volvo XC40.”

Caturas said that the fact that Geely can “whip up a car with that much tech and materials is a statement itself to what they’re capable of. Geely incorporating EU features and technology in their cars and selling it to an Asian market makes you think if we’ve been played all this time by the Japanese and Korean manufacturers. It puts my mind at ease finding out that the engine and platform came from Volvo, which has a really good track record for safety. We used to own a Volvo S40 way back in 2010 in the United Kingdom, and I get the same feelings when I ride the Coolray.”

Santos blames the Chinese car stigma as the reason many Filipinos consider cars coming from that country as “cheap, underperforming and underwhelming when it comes to features, engine, reliability of parts and strength of materials used. But after doing research about the brand, its history, other car brand acquisitions, and people behind them, I had faith in them that this would be a different Chinese car brand with lots of European influences.”

Enoza: “I did not have second thoughts. I evaluated all my candidate cars based on their technical specifications and features and price, plus the PMS schedule and cost. I treated them all as equals regardless of the originating country.”

Nillas said that she would only look at other car brands if they can do more than what Geely has done. “Like what Geely did to their comeback and first car in the market. They gave you everything you want in a car, especially the safety features.”

Cruz: “True, I had second thoughts about getting the Coolray due to its being a China brand. For me, CoolRay is the most high-end car that I have right now and I took the chance while the price is still low.”

What needs improvement?

Simeon: “Improvements that should be done with the next Coolray rollouts could affect the price of the vehicle. Improvements should be (the addition of) rear air vents, dual climate control, and maybe incorporate Android Auto and Apple car play instead of the platform they are using now. There is also an ongoing debate on fuel consumption on the Coolray. Personally, I don’t find it a problem. Coolray is a high-performance vehicle and Geely does not advertise it as being fuel-efficient.  It is a crossover vehicle, not a sedan.”

Gonzaga: “So far the only improvement the Coolray needs is the infotainment used. Instead of qdlink, they should have used the latest and popular Android Auto.”

Ocampo: “I’ve owned the car for eight months now, and so far I have not encountered major issues with it and I’m happy driving this little beast around. Areas to improve on is the infotainment. They should have put Android Auto or Apple CarPlay,” said Ocampo.

Caturas echoes Ocampo and Gonzaga’s observation: “I do wish they had included Apple Carplay and Android Auto, as well as the Level 2 Autonomous tech that it should come with to make it even more desirable for future owners.”

Add Santos to that infotainment wishlist: “What disappoints me is the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in its multimedia console where you can seamlessly integrate Waze, Netflix, and YouTube for long drives and city traffic gridlocks. Others, like voice command, emergency pedestrian braking, auto lane keeping assist and their Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) variant are things that I think Geely should also bring here in the Philippines, since these features are enabled in China and other countries that carry the Coolray.”

Enoza: “The front seat should have been bigger. I have to push the seat all the way back to have my preferred comfortable driving position. A bigger seat would have been better for better leg support. But that’s just me.”

Nillas: “I’m not using the infotainment system (as much as I want to) because it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay.”

Cruz: “As the moment, I have no negative observations because I’ve only had the car for just three days.”

Well, Mr. Cruz, at least I get the temporary privilege of saying I once “owned” a Coolray twice as long as you; twice as long with a crossover that sprung a final compassionate surprise for me: The high-end Sport variant didn’t use animal skin in its interior.