While proclaiming that UK vehicle pricing is presently through the roof, Iain Robertson is determined to issue a stern warning against accepting the low-cost tease from China, a nation renowned for underhand tactics and an ingenious masterplan.
The news has hit the fan this week that the Sino onslaught on the UK and Europe may be about to commence on a vehicular front. While competition from other brands ought to be welcomed, it would be fair to state that the West’s commercial guard has been lowered off the back of a pandemic from the East and what we are about to receive may be appropriate in some ways but will conceal a sting in its tail from which western enterprise will never recover. What China wants, China gets.
There are two key reasons for my antipathy against both DFSK and Skywell entering the UK’s already overcrowded new vehicle market: firstly, the Chinese brands are being marketed by Innovation Automotive (IA), a Cotswolds’ based enterprise that has grown from the remnants of The Colt Car Company, Mitsubishi’s recently shut down UK brand representative; secondly, despite offering what will appear to be unbeatable list pricing, supported by a strong warranty, the products are from the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC), a nation with a shockingly poor human rights’ record and a reputation for lying to the back teeth.
While the relatively recent collapse of Mitsubishi Motors in the UK lies not entirely at the doors of its management team, it needs to be stated that its structure was never built on particularly supportive foundations. In fact, a ‘cowboy’ attitude was often more prevalent at its Cirencester headquarters, masquerading as ‘fun’. Several of its former senior staff had been embroiled in various immoral and illegal trading activities, although, as tends to happen corporately, their misdeeds were ‘covered up’ with redundancy settlements and speedy dismissals, rather than perpetuating a ‘difficult image’ that would have been bad for sales.
On the other hand, the PRC is under significant scrutiny by governments for its stated intention to become THE most powerful nation in the world. Its uncanny ability to deny without question is quite shocking, as the WHO (World Health Organisation) discovered on its recent investigation into the causal roots of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a plot that would not do shame to an Ian Fleming novel, the PRC has not taken up arms in its stated aims against the rest of the world, releasing instead a laboratory-sourced epidemic that is forcing western economies to their knees. Naturally, its State Bank and funding facilities are ready to offer ‘help’, at the right price, because they can afford to.
China is already the ‘world king of manufacturing’, even though its impact on the automotive scene may not be quite as obvious as that on white goods and even luxury items that are sold in immense volumes by its exporters. What it does not already own, it can acquire. While Volkswagen, PSA and Daimler-Benz were early ‘investors’ in the former Chinese third world market, as recently as the early-1980s, mobilising its domestic scene has been the priority, with relatively small volumes of ‘western type’ products being exported elsewhere. Yet, China is now in control of the world lithium and precious metals scenes, having bought mines and affiliated businesses everywhere, which sews-up the BEVs market. Western manufacturers, afraid of missing out on the excitement, have been drawn into the Chinese masterplan likes moths to a naked flame.
If you believe that the much-publicised blockage of the Suez Canal has caused many of the manufacturing delays that have afflicted the automotive industry, think again, as China also controls the production of electronic management systems and componentry, not just from its homeland. It is not so long ago that an entire run of Chinese built motor vehicles was subjected to European crash testing, of which most were declared ‘dangerous’ and did not pass the stringent tests. While China’s carmakers may have learned from the errors of their developmental ways, in order to be competitive, if little else, you can rest assured that other corners will be cut on their way to market. China is renowned for ‘copycatting’ and copyright breaches continue to be tossed aside like McDonalds’ wrappers.
Having grown from the Mitsubishi UK ashes, Innovation Automotive promises to be the UK’s first multi-brand, all-electric, automotive company. It pledges to simplify and demystify the process of switching to electric for both businesses and consumers, while bringing a new level of accessibility to the market. It intends to adopt a customer-centric model, with the aim of becoming the go-to provider for efficiency-driven business operators and smart, eco-conscious motorists. Well, of course it does. It is hardly going to repeat the nonsensical MG story of a few years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the company believes that the recent acceleration of digitalisation and e-commerce is re-shaping customer expectations and driving demand for a simplified, modernised approach to vehicle sales. Its ‘established team of experts’ is said to research, source and deliver best-in-class electric vehicles, via a direct-to-consumer (online) sales model, enabling them to make the switch to zero emissions with minimal hassle and maximum confidence. Again, it would be foolish to state anything else but you can rest assured, the ‘innovation’ is coming from China, not Cirencester.
While its initial focus will commence with the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) sector, an aspect that will leave it only lightly rivalled, since both Ford and Stellantis have only introduced electric versions of their light vans recently, my advice to both of the known Euro-entities will be to shore up their business fronts immediately…although their dealings in China may determine by how much they may be allowed to do so. Yet, it is the ‘multi-brand’ approach taken by IA that will create significant interest, along with the fact that it will also import cars and other segment models in due course. China has so many overlapping brands that will not only make a multi-brand market approach seem sensible but will also deliver an aspect to future new vehicle representation in the UK that will witness the death knell to existing brand franchise arrangements.
Conclusion: It is very much a case of ‘caveat emptor’, as China commences its far-from-subtle slide into our new vehicle scenes. My advice would be to steer clear, despite appealing incentives.