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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Why your next car may be Chinese

18 April 2019

Back in the mid 20th century, the USA, UK and Europe were the world's major car manufacturing nations.

Everyone's dad had a Ford Cortina, a Vaxhaul Victor, Chevy or VW Beetle.

Then, in the late 1960s, the sleeping giant that is Japan awoke from its post-war slumber and started making cars for export. And they were very good cars.

Whereas your average Hillman, Morris or Ford required a valve-grind every 30-40,000 miles and a full engine overhaul every 60-70,000 -- these little Japanese-made cars had engines that just kept on going to 100,000 miles and beyond.

Not only were they durable but these cars were were also nippy, reliable, well equipped and not offensive to the eye.

Suddenly, in fact almost overnight, Japanese car makers such as Toyota, Honda and Datsun effectively owned the market and the old mainstays such as Austin, Morris, Triumph, Vaxhaul and such were effectively demoted to "also ran" status.

In fact, it was the sheer speed at which the automotive red sun rose that helped push British Leyland into oblivion. Okay, the outrageous attitudes of British labour unions was probably the main reason but few manufacturers outside of the prestigious European marques could come close to matching the build-quality of the Japanese.

The final nail in the coffin of Brit/Euro/US dominance was the value that these Japanese cars represented.

Despite their excellent performance, durability, longevity, reliability, fuel-efficiency and features -- they were not expensive.

So every since the mid to late 1970s, Japanese vehicles have been a common sight on our road and they have almost always featured at or near the top of consumer satisfaction surveys.

Now brace yourself -- because change is in the wind.

I am predicting that we're going to see a new wave of superior vehicles arriving on the market, in much the same way the Japanese successfully invaded showrooms and highways all those years ago.

I'm talking about vehicles that are made in China.

No, I'm not out of my tree. I actually know a couple of people with Cherry brand Chinese cars (dino-juicers) and they can't speak highly enough of them. They've proven to be reliable and fantastic value -- so I'm told.

Yes, I do know all about the atrocious record of safety compliance that Chinese vehicles are renowned for -- but that is changing and changing very rapidly.

What's more, the Chinese are going to simply try and produce a cheaper car with "acceptable" levels of safety. No, they're going to be riding the crest of a wave of revolutionary change in the automotive industry.

Behold... the Chinese-made EVs that will change the world.

No, I'm not kidding.

China has quietly been at the forefront of EV design and development. Initially their focus seems to have been on electric cycles and they seem to have been doing an excellent job with massive numbers of these vehicles now on Chinese roads, with a proven record of affordability, performance and reliability.

Now they're focusing their efforts on cars and utes.

In the past, the Great Wall Chinese utes had an appalling safety record, tending to fold like an accordion at the slightest provocation. Fortunately, they seem to have gotten the message that people are important cargo so newer versions are somewhat more respectable but the real surprise is this EV ute.

If your needs are a little less commercial then the Chinese still have something to offer in the form of MG EV. Yes, that's right, the Chinese bought the rights to that iconic British motoring brand MG and are churning out electric vehicles bearing the famous insignia.

This push by China to ramp up EV production is partly driven by the Chinese government and its new policies to promote EV manufacturing.

Given the way that low-cost Chinese manufacturing has changed everyone's lives in the past couple of decades, it would be foolish to dismiss China as a potentially very large player in the EV marketplace -- especially when you look at how poorly the Japanese are doing in this sector.

Aside from Nissan, whose Leaf EV has proven very popular, most of the Japanese manufacturers have sat on the sidelines, opting to focus on hybrid vehicles or alternative fuels like hydrogen rather than committing to pure EVs. This leaves them very much behind the eight ball as it becomes increasingly clear that "pure EVs" are likely to be the preferred mode of personal transport in the surprisingly near future.

I for one welcome our Chinese EV overlords and the products they may drop on our markets.

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