Spicy Surprise

Jeanette Tuason

Revelations from a Changan media trip in Chongqing, China

 

When I got a call from my editor asking me to attend the Changan brand experience in Chongqing, China, I was hesitant to be honest. I’ve already made a promise to the family that I would no longer travel for the rest of the year. I considered going to Japan for the Formula V1 Races in Suzuka, but China was not really on my list of “places to go to.” But my friend, Maricar Parco, a staple in the luxury car segment, who recently joined Inchcape to head Changan Auto Philippines, was coming along with a 42-person contingent. I yielded with being a “Maritess” in mind.

Inchcape, for those out of the loop, is a British company that can pass for a United Nations of car brands. They entered the Philippines through a merger and acquisition of CATS Motors or Auto Nation Group of Felix Ang, who handles brands like Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Harley Davidson under their umbrella.

Landing in Chongqing, I braced myself for a blast from the past but was greeted instead by a city that seemed to have drank a whole pot of strong coffee. The modern airport, mega infrastructures, and a riverside lit up like a Christmas tree on steroids, were a far cry from the provincial image I had in mind.

Changan AVATR
Author with Changan PH Brand Head, Maricar Parco
Changan’s suave interior features and design

Visiting Changan’s China R&D center, one of five, aside from Italy, Germany, Japan, and the US, was like stepping into a future where robots make cars, giving Terminator vibes. I learned that Changan, founded in 1862, is the oldest automobile maker in China, which started by building military vehicles. Today, they have forged partnerships to build Ford and Mazda cars.

Test drive time

We were given time to test drive a range of vehicles. The men in the media group were particularly excited about the Hunter Pick-up Truck, eagerly lining up for their turn. As the sole woman in the group, I was drawn to the sleekest car on the roster, the Avatar – Changan’s high-end nameplate. Usually, when testing cars, I start with high-speed braking, precisely what I did. I’m not your typical car enthusiast; I prefer comfort and riding in the back. But driving the Avatar was a real treat. The Changan executive assigned to ride with me pointed out that it’s comparable to the Tesla Model Y.

Their claim to fame? Zooming into the electric avenue and packing cars with more bells and whistles than a marching band. The tech in these cars could make you feel like you’re zooming in with the Jetsons. Their 360-degree camera is an overkill, along with its almost TVlike digital display and rear view screen. It’s nearly as good as a suspecting wife that has eyes everywhere.

The million dollar question

Why are these premium brand owners and international car distributors betting on a Chinese mass-market brand? The answer, as I found out, is quite simple. The luxury car market is like an exclusive club – tremendous but small. The mass market, where Changan plays, is the real party.

Inchcape’s strategy was made clear by COO Frankie Ang.

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They want to be a significant player in the car market, and with luxury cars being just a tiny slice of the pie, they’re eyeing the more significant piece. With its competitive prices and tech-forward approach, Changan is their ticket.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Like Changan’s, the reliability of these tech-laden Chinese cars is still a question mark hanging in the air. Only time will tell. But the amount of money spent and speed of progress the Chinese are playing with, might be the key to success.

So, why consider a Changan? For me, it’s the competitive price, the tech in the cars, being one of the biggest car brands in China, and their partnership with more experienced car brands. It also helps that the Chinese vehicles are among the electrification race’s leaders.

Most items around you are made in China; it’s usually a cheaper alternative, whether a generic brand, a rebranded product, or a Class A replica. It’s currently the way of the world.

As we left the neon-drenched streets of Chongqing, I realized this trip was more than just about cars. It was a lesson in keeping an open mind in constantly shifting gears. With its blend of history and futuristic ambition, Changan wants to claim the vast ocean. Whether they will be successful with this, only time will tell. As I say to my kids, how would you know if you would like it, if you wouldn’t even try?