2014 Top Selling Cars - China

The emergence of China as the largest and, arguably, the most important automotive market is well acknowledged in the industry circles. But doing business in the Chinese market isn't a cakewalk as the land of dragon poses some unique challenges that are often tough to crack. While some are still figuring out the ways and means of operating successfully in the world's most populous country, there are some brands that have hit the jackpot.

For the year 2014, it was Volkswagen that went all guns blazing and emerged as the best-selling automotive brand in China. That isn't surprising, as Volkswagen has been dominating the world's largest car market for what seems an eternity now. Helped by two successful joint ventures and playing the ‘early mover’ strategy to perfection, Volkswagen sold 2.7 million units last year. That's almost twice as much as what Wuling, a domestic automaker and a partner of General Motors, managed with 1.4 million units. Taking the last spot on the podium is Hyundai, the South Korean manufacturer ending the year with sales of 1.1 million units.

General Motors and Volkswagen rule the roost in China, a fact that was reinforced yet again when we compiled the list of top ten best-selling cars of 2014. Seven models out of the top ten best-sellers were from either of these giants and neither are showing signs of slowing down.

With cumulative sales of 750,019 units, Wuling Hongguang is, by far, the best-selling automobile in China. A product of the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture, we all know the Hongguang as the Chevrolet Enjoy in India. That the Hongguang is the only Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) selling in such high numbers in a market known more for its love towards sedans and new-found love for Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) makes it all the more impressive. With the Buick Excelle and Chevrolet Cruze finding 560,000-odd customers between them, GM is in an enviable situation in our neighboring country. It’s a pity that GM’s Indian operations are struggling with severely under-performing models.

At 371,962 units, sales of Volkswagen Lavida might be just half of Hongguang's but that was enough for the midsize sedan from Shanghai-Volkswagen to become China's second-largest selling car. Santana, another China-specific model from the same joint venture, ended 2014 as the country’s eighth best-selling vehicle. Adding to Volkswagen’s tally in the list are a couple of interesting but related cars. Sagitar, which is actually the new Jetta worldwide, is at number four with sales a little over 300,000 units. Just don’t confuse that with the other Jetta that you see at number six. It is a legacy model that is several generations old but is still managing impressive numbers with just a few facelifts.

Just like India, Sports Utility Vehicles are getting increasingly popular in China too and Haval, the SUV sub-brand of China’s Great Wall Motors, is very popular in its homeland. The brand’s H6 was the most-popular SUV in 2014 and the third best-selling vehicle in China with cumulative sales of 315,881 units. Nissan’s Sylphy had a good outing at number five with sales hovering a few tens above 300,000 units. Hyundai’s Elantra Langdong, which is the same as the Elantra sold in India and elsewhere, rounded off the top ten with 252,338 units sold.

2014 Top Selling Cars in China:

1. Wuling Hongguang (SAIC-GM-Wuling) - 750,019
2. Volkswagen Lavida (Shanghai VW) - 371,962
3. Great Wall Haval H6 - 315,881
4. Volkswagen Sagitar (FAW VW) - 300,082
5. Nissan Sylphy - 300,058
6. Volkswagen Jetta (FAW VW) - 296,961
7. Buick Excelle (Shanghai GM) - 293,098
8. Volkswagen Santana (Shanghai VW) - 285,301
9. Chevrolet Cruze (Shanghai GM) - 267,985
10. Hyundai Elantra Langdong - 252,338

Source for sales figures: China Passenger Car Association (CPCA)

Outside the top ten, Ford Focus put up an extremely impressive show with its hatchback and sedan body-styles hitting 207,349 and 184,432 units respectively. Put together, Focus would be the second best-selling nameplate in China, next only to the mighty Wuling Hongguang.

At the luxury end of the spectrum, Audi is the clear winner beating BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a country mile. With 513,000 units sold in 2014, China is Audi’s largest and most important market. BMW managed a respectable 278,195 units, a number that might appear less when compared to Audi but still a pretty impressive figure nonetheless. Mercedes-Benz came in a distant third, with sales of 139,508 units.


Mercedes-Benz launches the stunning CLA-Class in India

Mercedes-Benz India went on a new model offensive last year and was rewarded with a significant increase in sales. Not to lose the momentum that's favouring it right now, Mercedes-Benz has kicked off 2015 with the launch of CLA-Class sedan today. The CLA is the smallest and most affordable sedan wearing the three pointed star in India right now and is a product of the same Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform that underpinned the A-Class and B-Class hatchbacks and the GLA-Class crossover before it.

The CLA 200 Sport, the sole petrol variant on offer, is priced at INR 35.00 Lakhs. The diesel-engine CLA 200 CDI is available in two trim levels - Style and Sport, that retail for INR 31.50 Lakhs and INR 35.90 Lakhs respectively. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. While these prices might not compare favorably with the Audi A3 that starts at almost 8 Lakh Rupees less, its important to note that the initial lot of CLAs are imported as Completely Built Units (CBU) with production in India slated to begin later this year.

Inspired by the sexy CLS four-door coupe, the CLA is a visual stunner. The long hood, the striking grille with the large three pointed star, the arching roof line, the frameless doors, the boomerang character lines, the terrific detailing in those uniquely-shaped taillights and the dual exhaust pipes mounted beneath a diffuser-like plastic insert in the rear bumper combine together to create a dramatic-looking sedan that's sure to leave onlookers impressed. If you wanna turn heads, you gotta go in the CLA. Period.

Sharing most of the parts with its MFA stablemates, the CLA's cabin would look familiar for those who have seen and experienced the A, B and GLA. The three spoke steering wheel, the turbine-shaped air-conditioner vents and the brushed silver finish in the dashboard look superb while a notable improvement over its hatchback siblings come in the form of a bigger, higher-resolution, tablet-like infotainment system that pops out of the dashboard.

Feature list is extensive with the CLA boasting a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7-surround system with Bluetooth, CD and USB connectivity, leather upholstery, climate control and a panoramic sliding roof that automatically closes when it senses rain. As with most luxury cars, the safety aspect is covered with the CLA coming equipped with six airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and a host of driver assist functions like Brake Assist, Pre-SAFE, Attention Assist, Hill Hold function and Acceleration Skid Control (ASC).

Both the engines offered in the CLA are doing duty in the GLA crossover already. While the turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder petrol engine generates 181 bhp at 5500 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1200 to 1400 rpm, the 2.2-liter diesel engine belts out a modest 134 bhp between 3600 to 4400 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1600 to 3000 rpm. Mated to a 7-speed Dual Clutch automatic transmission, both these engines offer three driving modes to choose from - E (Economy), S (Sport) and M (Manual).

With the high-performance CLA45 AMG already making waves in the country, the regular CLA-Class would play a crucial role in Mercedes' attempt to topple Audi as the best-selling luxury car manufacturer in India. So, what's your next move Audi?

Tata Motors launches Bolt, prices start from INR 4.45 Lakhs

After an extended period of lull, Tata Motors came back with a bang with the launch of the Zest compact sedan, its first all-new model in years launched under the 'HorizonNext' strategy. With the Zest proving to be a big success, Tata Motors launched the much-awaited Bolt hatchback today in what would be the Pune-based manufacturer's yet another crack at the hot premium small car segment. 

As always, Tata Motors has nailed it when it comes to pricing. Retailing between INR 4.45 Lakhs and 6.06 Lakhs for the petrol variants and INR 5.50 Lakhs and 7.00 Lakhs for the diesel variants ex-showroom Delhi, the Bolt is a superb value-for-money offering that has the potential to snatch sales from established competitors like the Maruti-Suzuki Swift, Hyundai i20 and Volkswagen Polo. Four trim levels are on offer - XE, XM, XMS and XT. 

The Bolt is essentially a Zest minus the boot. Despite obvious similarities with the outgoing Vista, the car looks young and stylish which is commendable. The signature Tata grille, together with the smoked headlamps with inbuilt projectors and the power bulge in the hood, gives the Bolt an aggressive front end. The silhouette could well be mistaken for that of the Vista's, save for the blackened C-pillar that creates a 'floating roof' effect. At the rear, the 'christmas tree' taillights are now gone, replaced by sleek flame-shaped lenses that gives the Bolt a strong character. Adding a sporty touch is the rear spoiler and the black plastic insert in the rear bumper.

Like the Zest, Bolt's interiors are a big step-up vis-a-vis the Vista. The design, layout, fit and finish of Bolt's cabin would be amongst the best in segment, a fact we can definitely lay claim to having experienced the Zest. If the Vista's interiors were a compromise compared to competing models from Volkswagen and Hyundai, the Bolt's no longer is. As always, expect the interiors of the Bolt to be extremely spacious with generous leg room and width in both rows that can easily accommodate five full-sized adults. Unlike the Zest that featured dual-tone interiors, the Bolt gets the more sporty 'java black' theme inside.

All variants of the Bolt feature air-conditioning, an electric power steering with active return function, remote fuel lid and tailgate opener, a tachometer and a Driver Information System with gear shift indicator and fuel-efficiency readouts. While that might not seem generous, the top-end Bolt XT's kit definitely will. Amongst others, it has central locking, power windows, electrically-adjustable rear view mirrors, automatic climate control, rear seats with split function, driver's seat height adjustment, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Corner Stability Control (CSC), speed-sensing door locks, smart rear wiper and airbags for the driver and front passenger. 

A highlight of the Bolt's cabin is the first-in-segment 'ConnectNext' infotainment system developed by Harmon. It has four speakers, four tweeters, multiple playback options including AM/FM, USB, Aux-In and iPod, steering-mounted audio and phone controls, speed dependent volume control, full Bluetooth connectivity with phone-book access, call logs, call reject with SMS function, conference call and incoming SMS readout, smartphone-enabled navigation system and touchscreen-aided climate control system. That's not all. It also lets you play videos and view images through USB and SD card when the car is stationary and features voice command recognition too. Now, that's entertainment!

The 1.2-liter turbocharged 'Revotron' petrol engine that made its debut in the Zest powers the Bolt too, with a maximum power output of 89 bhp at 5000 rpm and a peak torque of 140 Nm between 1500 and 4000 rpm. As in the Zest, the engine features three drive modes - City, Eco and Sport, in what is a first-in-segment feature. The diesel variants have the familiar 1.3-liter Quadrajet mill that produces 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and a peak torque of 190 Nm between 1750 to 3000 rpm. Both engines are mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The popular Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) could make an appearance in the Bolt diesel a few months down the line.

Those with sharp memories would still remember the buzz generated by the Zest and Bolt at the 2014 Auto Expo in New Delhi. Though it has taken a year for the Bolt to go on sale, it still has a lot going for it. The biggest challenge for Tata though would be to make potential customers look past the Tata badge and the Indica baggage. Are they ready to get, set, Bolt? We wish they are.


2015 Detroit - Honda NSX vows in production form, finally

After building tons of expectation amongst ardent show-goers and fans worldwide since 2012 when the NSX Concept was first presented, Honda finally unleashed its all-new supercar in its production form. And it's not a Honda. Now, don't get confused. Since the debut location was the 'Motor City' Detroit in the United States of America where Honda's premium brand Acura has built a good reputation, the NSX would be badged and sold with an 'A' on its hood and boot rather than the 'H' we know here in India. Along with the Ford GT, the Acura NSX swept the critics and the public off their collective feet in Detroit.

Twenty five years! That's how long it has been since the original NSX went on sale. And Honda has never been the same again. That the NSX took Honda to an entirely different level would be a gross understatement of the car's virtues that even had Ayrton Senna, arguably the world's best racer and a Formula 1 legend, pitching in during the car's development. With the second-generation NSX, Honda has faithfully stuck to the original's formula of shifting the brand's own paradigms. So, what does the new NSX have in its arsenal that makes the fanboys go weak on their knees?

The first thing that comes to our mind about this mid-engined Japanese supercar is its hybrid powertrain. A twin turbocharged V6 engine mated to a 9-speed Dual Clutch Transmission is complemented by three electric motors - one each powering the two front wheels and a direct drive unit at the rear. Though Honda is still mum on the NSX's power and torque figures, the horsepower generated are transferred to all four wheels through a Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. Among its other hardware, the Integrated Dynamic System that adjusts engine, transmission and chassis response by letting the driver chosse between Quiet, Sport, Sport+ and Track modes and the "launch" function that aids in that ultimate 'zero delay' launch performance would keep the enthusiasts happy.

Despite the fact that we are familiar with the car through its various concepts forms in the last three years, the new NSX still looks hot and stylish. It sits low and wide wearing sharp, clean lines throughout. The aggressive front end is dominated by slim headlights with multiple LED elements and gaping air intakes. In profile, the signature side air intake and the functional floating C-pillar ups the style quotient by a few notches. The racecar-inspired diffuser and the quad exhausts in the middle look incredibly sporty. If the original NSX was the world's first all-aluminium monocoque supercar, the successor features an innovative multi-material body that utilizes an aluminium space frame, ultra high-strength steel, carbon fiber and other advanced materials.

The interiors are impressive too by supercar standards, interestingly christened "Human Support Cockpit" by Honda. Swathed in bright red leather, the driver and passenger seats are said to appear top-class grip levels and comfort. A sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheel, a dynamic TFT instrument cluster and the minimalist center console dominated by a rather large 'power' button stand out inside. The center console also extends into a midframe, a functional chassis structural member that reflects the aesthetic appeal of a naked sports bike. Don't look for anything exotic in the cabin as you normally would in a supercar. The NSX would suffice all other requirements though.

Slated to get into production at a brand-new facility in Ohio, United States later this year, the new NSX would mark the beginning of an all-new era for the Japanese marque. And yeah, there's a RHD version too, but the chance that we Indians might be treated to this supercar are supremely remote.


Datsun launches Go+ in India at an incredible INR 3.80 Lakhs

When Nissan announced the relaunch of Datsun brand to cater to the needs of the emerging markets, it did generate a lot of buzz. But, Datsun's stint in India has not quite gone to plan with the Go struggling to make an impact in a segment dominated by Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai. Not the one to be bogged down by the Go's failure, Datsun is back with its second launch, the Go+.

As its name suggests, the Go+ is essentially the Go hatchback extended to accommodate a third row of seats. With a claimed seating space for seven occupants, would you be surprised if we disclose that the overall length of the Go+ is less than 4 meters? Yes, the Datsun Go+ is a compact Multi Purpose Vehicle and is a direct competitor to Maruti-Suzuki's Eeco and Omni vans.

Launched at a killer price tag of INR 3.80 Lakhs for the base D variant, the Go+ is superb value for money especially considering that it can seat seven when needed. The other variants - D1, A and T, are priced INR 3.82, 4.15 and 4.61 Lakhs respectively. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. At this price, the Go+ would end up rubbing shoulders with cars from several other segments.

The Datsun Go+ shares its design and styling with the Go hatchback. The front end is purposeful with the sweptback headlamps, hexagonal grille and ridged hood adding a lot of character. Up until the C-pillar, the Go+ cannot even be differentiated from its smaller sibling, after which the MPV bodystyle makes its presence felt. The additional length has been smartly integrated, with the Go+ even using the same taillights as the Go hatchback. A few places, like the gaping wheel wells, the bulbous rear fenders and the slab-sided profile, does make the Go+ look a bit ungainly.

The interiors of the Go+ are straight off the Go hatchback too. Though a practical place to be in, the cabin, finished in grey and beige, is strictly bare-bones with visible signs of cost cutting glaringly obvious. The three-spoke steering wheel, circular air-con vents and the door pads are some of the better-finished items inside. The dashboard-mounted gear lever and the unique seat extension from the Go find their place in the Go+ too. Based on our experience with the Go, space at the first two rows should be adequate. The third row appears to be a squeeze though and might just be for those rare occasions when practicality takes precedence over comfort.

The spartan equipment list includes only the basics with the top-end variant getting air-conditioning, power steering, front power windows, a mobile docking station, follow-me-home headlamps and central locking. There is nothing else, not even a music system offered as standard. A driver airbag is optional on the top-end variant though. Powering the Go+ is the same 1.2-liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine that does duty in the Go hatchback. With 68 horsepower and 104 Nm of torque, the specifications seem more suited to an entry level hatchback than a people-lugging MPV.

But the value-conscious Indian customer could overlook all these looking at the price tag. Will the Go+ change Datsun's fortunes in India or will it be another dud in Nissan India's lineup? We think it would be the latter, but we could be wrong.