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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 21:56 GMT
China's Brilliance heads European invasion
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Geneva motor show

Brilliance car
Brilliance cars are set to cost 15% less than their Korean rivals
Some 15 years after introducing Korean cars to Europe, Professor Hans-Ulrich Sachs is leading the charge from China.

And this time he reckons it is going to be a breeze.

"In the early 1990s, the technology gap [between the Asian market entrants and European cars] was much greater than it is today," the 54-year-old car industry executive points out.

Professor Sachs' car importing firm HSO Motors Europe has started bringing in Brilliance models from China.

And relative to leading marques, these models are much more advanced than the Hyundai models he imported from Korea in the early 1990s.

Quality cars

With three models on display at the Geneva motor show - two production models and one concept car - the Chinese car maker Brilliance Jinbei Automobile makes it clear that it means business.

Professor Hans-Ulrich Sachs with Brilliance car
In Europe, I have experienced some protectionism
Professor Hans-Ulrich Sachs, HSO Motor Europe

With 15,000 predicted sales this year and 20-25,000 next year, initial targets are low, Professor Sachs acknowledges.

But that was the case with the Koreans too when they entered the market in the early 1990s. These days they sell several hundreds of thousands of cars here, he points out.

"In terms of quality, I don't think we're so far behind as some of our competitors would have it," he says, pointing out that Brilliance cars have Mitsubishi engines and share paint shop facilities with BMW, its joint venture partner in China.

"We have the capability in the future to achieve similar numbers," he believes.

Barriers to entry

Initially, Brilliance's cars will cost some 15% less than those sold by its Korean rivals Hyundai and Kia, which means price will be central to its marketing.

"This is one of our advantages, because in Europe we have a very competitive market," Professor Sachs says.

By the end of the decade, Brilliance aims to export almost 160,000 cars from China, but this will not happen without a great deal of effort.

"In Europe, I have experienced some protectionism," Professor Sachs adds, describing some of he European Union's regulatory requirements as "barriers" that makes it harder for outsiders to enter.

"Influences by some big manufacturers has been making our job more difficult," he says.

More arrivals

Yet, the Chinese are unstoppable, Professor Sachs believes.

In 2005, China exported some 173,000 cars, mainly to Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

Interior of Brilliance car
The cars have Mitsubishi engines and share BMW paint work

And with other Chinese car makers - most notably SAIC and Chery - also preparing to start exporting to both Europe and the US, the level is set to soar.

"They'll need a few months and they'll be ready," says Professor Sachs, who welcomes such rivals.

"We'll need urgently another two Chinese manufacturers in the European market to highlight how China has become a major manufacturer of cars."

China is targeting a tenfold rise in automotive exports, from $11bn in 2005 to $120bn in 2015, which would give it a 10% share of the global car market.

Yet nobody pretends it is going to be easy.

Said Yin Jiaxu, chairman of China Southern Auto Holdings, at a recent conference in China: "If we want to become a global automotive giant, there is still a long road to travel."

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