Prized Points: BAIC unveils two hopefuls for SUV, MPV categories

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Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

THE sports utility vehicle (SUV) and multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) segments are two of the fastest-growing and selling formats in the automobile industry. On Sept. 28, BAIC Philippines unveiled two new models in the aforementioned categories in a bid to stake a claim in the niches. The car brand (which opened shop here in 2014) is the fourth-largest auto group in China, where it is based in Beijing. The BAIC Group is ranked 124th on the Fortune Global 500 list, with an operating income of $69.6 billion, according to a company statement. Its design center is located in Turin, Italy.

The BJ20 compact crossover is the company’s first SUV offering locally, an entry-model into its Bravo line, while the M50S is an upgrade of the popular M20 platform.

Bayan Automotive Industries Corporation (distributor of BAIC in the Philippines) president and CEO George S. Chua said in a speech during the twin launch that “thanks to the implementation of the China ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, bringing down customs duties from 20% to 5% on certain vehicle models,” BAIC now has a “fighting chance to compete in certain categories in the domestic market.”

And, despite the “negative image of China-made products,” Mr. Chua said the company has been able to thrive — outpacing the double-digit growth of the Philippine auto industry from 2015 to 2017. In choosing the nameplates to bring to the local market, the executive maintained that the priority is to “look for models that the Philippine motoring public wanted and needed, at a price that would still be affordable.”

Replying to a question from BusinessWorld, the executive revealed, “Given the chance, we’d like to expand our product line into the more popular segments such jeepney replacements… electric vehicles, and delivery [truck] segment. All of these things are in the plans.”

BAIC Philippines currently has nine dealerships and 21 accredited service centers. The launch of the two additional vehicle models now pushes the number of local offerings to 10.

The BJ20 was globally presented to the public in August 2016 — bannering a “futuristically functional, classically boxy, and ruggedly lived-in look.” The front-wheel drive crossover is powered by a Euro5-compliant, turbocharged Mitsubishi 4A91T 1.5-liter gasoline engine with MIVEC variable valve timing. The system generates 147 hp (at 6,000 rpm) and 210 Nm of torque (from 2,000 — 2,500 rpm). BAIC maintains that because the engine is turbocharged, it is fuel-efficient and powerful — “delivering the power of a 2.25-liter engine” when needed. The power plant is mated to a CVT transmission with a “deep starting ratio for heavy-hauling situations.”

BAIC claims a fuel economy figure of 13.15 kilometers per liter on “comprehensive driving conditions through inter-city highways and inner-city streets.”

The BJ20 clears the ground by 215 millimeters, and rides on 225/55 tires mounted on sporty 18-inch alloys. It features an electric power-assisted steering, auto-hold parking, an electronic parking brake, climate control with air filtration, and an infotainment system predicated on a 10.1-inch interactive touch screen.

“The BJ20 [has a] totally modern design you would expect from a much more expensive luxury vehicle, such as having a panoramic sunroof,” declared Mr. Chua. “Personally, the most endearing feature… is that it is turbocharged, and [has] a dual exhaust system — something you see only in high-performance vehicles.”

The BJ20 is priced at P1.148 million for the 1.5-liter turbo CVT Standard variant, and P1.288 million for the 1.5-liter turbo CVT Luxury edition.

The sequel to BAIC’s three-row M20 boasts a “roomy cabin, rugged construction, responsive engine, and refined ride.” The brand positions this new vehicle with an updated series designation as a “versatile family car” with the qualities of a people mover and a utility vehicle.

Also boasting three rows, the M50S is tall and boxy, capable of a 2+3+3 seating configuration with a middle-row bench, or a 2+2+3 formation with individual seats in the middle. BAIC bestows some premium touches — such as microfiber synthetic leather-covered seats, electrically assisted steering, and an infotainment system with a reversing camera.

The rear-wheel-driven MPV has body-on-frame construction, and is motivated by a DAM15DL 1.5-liter, Euro5 gasoline engine with advanced dual variable valve timing promising 114 hp and 150 Nm. BAIC insists there is enough room for cargo even if the rear bench is not collapsed (the second row is foldable, too).

“With the introduction of the M50S, you get something much more than the M20,” continued Mr. Chua. “[It] is bigger, better, more advanced, and with more features. The best part is that if you consider the devaluation of the peso and the increase in excise tax rates, the introductory price of the M50S… is actually cheaper than the old price of the M20.”

The M50S seven/eight-seater Luxury variant costs P638,000; the Ultra-Luxury variant goes for P668,000.