China, Chongqing, Changan (Part 1): Swinging for the fences

China, Chongqing, Changan (Part 1): Swinging for the fences

The China automaker has lofty global aspirations, and the numbers show them

UNDERSTANDABLY, there are now loftier aspirations for Changan Auto in the Philippines when it did a reboot of sorts last September — publicly debuting under a new country distributor group.

London-based Inchcape, the “largest independent global automotive distributor and retailer in the world” with a presence in over 40 markets across five continents, takes over the reins of China’s oldest car maker — adding to its considerable local portfolio of brands here which include Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, Jeep, Dodge, RAM, Chrysler, Harley-Davidson, and a Mazda dealership, following its merger with CATS.

But obviously due to its more accessible price points, Changan Auto is envisioned to move more units and fill the garage of a greater number of car browsers.

It takes a couple of hours by plane from Hong Kong to Chongqing, which lies in a mountainous region. The undulating terrain is seemingly only broken by the tranquil meandering of the mighty Yangtze, which at some point meets with the Jianling River.

The Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport is built to impress — appearing a little too large for the present traffic of visitors, at least the time we are there. But that may just also be the People’s Republic of China’s Central Government future-proofing the municipality for anticipated growth. Indeed, opened in 1990, the airport has gone through multiple expansion phases.

Our group of dealers, bank partners, members of the media, and content creators are greeted by a cold rush of air as we step out of the terminal and head for our bus. This place can get very hot and humid, we are told by our local guide, but we have fortuitously come at a time where the weather is mild.

Hereabouts is home to Changan Auto, the smallest of the so-called “Big Four” state-owned vehicle marques. However, it is the biggest seller of ICE (internal combustion engine)-powered vehicles in the country.

Changan develops vehicles of sub-brands Deepal (or Shenlan, purveying electric vehicles), Avatr (its premium EV line with joint investor CATL, the world’s leading battery manufacturer), Changan Qiyuan (electric vehicle line under the Changan brand), Changan Uni (ICE-powered vehicles), Oshan (mid-level SUVs and MPVs), and Kaicene (commercial vehicles).

Speaking with “Velocity,” Changan Auto Philippines General Manager Maricar Parco shares, “That’s the beauty of this partnership between Changan and Inchcape. The whole brand portfolio of Changan Auto is available for Inchcape Philippines. Again, we introduced the Changan ICE vehicles and previewed the Deepal which we hope to introduce as soon as next year. And because of the proximity of China to the country, we can get our vehicles quite quickly, and it’s really just a matter of having the business proposition approved.”

During a presentation at the massive Changan Global R&D Center, we are told that Changan’s global footprint involves some 72,000 employees, and has created around one million jobs across the supplier/contractor chain. With a market capitalization of RMB210 billion, Changan has 73 branches and subsidiaries, nine manufacturing hubs, and 27 vehicle and power plants in 64 countries and regions. Its global dealership network is 9,000-strong, peopled by 120,000 service staff, and considers the following as its key markets: Mexico, Pero, Chile, Russia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, and Pakistan.

The Chongqing facility is the nexus of a global network of 10 R&D centers located in Beijing, Shanghai (software development center), Hefei, Japan (styling design center), the US (intelligent driving R&D center), Hebei (light vehicle R&D center), the UK (power R&D center), Germany (styling design center), and another in Europe (design center). Its R&D activities are overseen by a combined complement of 17,000 people from 30 countries.

Back to Inchcape, the Philippines actually becomes its first partnership with Changan Auto in Asia-Pacific, effectively becoming a gateway to presumably more markets here.

If you’re wondering, “Chang-an,” means “lasting safety” in its traditional Chinese form, and the company embraces this as it claims to not only boast a “comprehensive and complete product lineup to the Filipino that is competitive in pricing, yet also exceptional when it comes superior driving performance, in-car technology, and intelligent driving and safety systems.”

At the brand’s aforementioned recent relaunch, Changan International Corp. Vice-General Manager Tom Yin said that the main goals of Changan are electrification, increased connectivity, and a so-called “vast ocean” plan that targets the sale of 1.2 million cars outside of China by 2030.

Meanwhile, Inchcape Philippines Managing Director Alex Hammett had insisted that the global partnership with Changan, inked this year, promises “much better services” to the growing number of Changan customers in the Philippines. Inchcape is poised to leverage its “industry-leading digital and data analytics capabilities based here in the Philippines,” continued Mr. Hammett. “(It’s here) where we have our digital center with over 650 employees working on digital solutions, AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, cybersecurity, and so on.”

During a recent conversation with this writer, the executive revealed plans to set up a regional Inchcape office in the Philippines. It makes sense, he said, owing to the presence of the digital delivery center, the Filipinos’ fluency in the English language, and Inchcape’s confidence in its CATS Group partner.

Inchcape Philippines Chief Operating Officer Francis Jonathan “Frankie” Ang told “Velocity” the group and its affiliated brands are currently in the process of laying down the IT infrastructure that will bring its systems up to speed with Inchcape worldwide standards and redound in obvious benefit to both internal and external stakeholders.

Seeing the girth and breadth of Changan’s operations in Chongqing, it’s easier to fathom how serious the brand is about putting out products that not only look good, but are keenly tuned and tested to pass the sniff test of increasingly discerning car buyers in China, and well beyond its borders.

More about this in our next issue.