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Amid a surfeit of China auto brands, GAC Motor wants to stand out through technology

OBVIOUSLY, there is a need for clarity and definition in the middle of a chorusing din of voices. That’s exactly the case in the surge of Chinese auto brands in the Philippines.

As the “made in China” stigma has largely fell by the wayside evidenced by the healthy sales of vehicles manufactured there (and we should include marques that are not Chinese ones), the floodgates have seemingly opened. We are spoiled by an embarrassment of riches — and that’s always good in the name of competition as companies try to outdo each other with value-for-money offerings and such. Brands cannot afford to be complacent or to be content to sink in the background of mediocrity or common ground.

GAC Motor is keenly aware of this, and is doing the needful to not only tread water, but to get ahead of the field. “The Chinese market is the most competitive market in the world,” began GAC R&D Center Vice-President Fan Zhang, in response to a question from “Velocity.” “There are so many brands, and each one of them is trying to become strong — to take a good share of the market.”

The fully-owned subsidiary of Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC GROUP) prides itself as a “national high-tech enterprise dedicated to the production and sales of internationally advanced vehicles, components, powertrain, automotive supplies and R&D of automotive engineering technology.” However, building a brand’s credibility, as many know, is not just about marketing spins and campaigns, but the actual meat of what it stands for — evidenced in its activities, products, and what it spends on.

In GAC’s case, a compelling statement that speaks to vehicle quality and more is a considerable investment in research and development.

Media delegations from the Philippines and Malaysia recently visited its massive R&D facility in Guangzhou — the nexus of a multi-country network “primarily responsible for planning, formulating, and implementing product development and new technology strategies for self-owned brands such as GAC Motor and GAC Aion.” Other R&D facilities are located in Xiamen, California, Milan, and Shanghai.

GAC also maintains its own domestic, “first-class large-scale test sites and bases such as intelligent network laboratories.” Manning these facilities are over 6,000 “independent R&D professionals” from over 10 countries, seeing to earnest work on pushing the envelope in so-called “three electrics” areas — electric power, electric control, and electric drive — plus intelligent connectivity.

“For GAC, we’ve come a long way. From the beginning, we’ve set a target for our brand that we don’t want to go for cheap products. We want to provide quality products for our customers,” added Mr. Fan, who once worked alongside renowned Filipino car designer Winifredo “Wini” Camacho at Mercedes-Benz.

Here in the Philippines, the GAC brand continues to assume an upward trajectory — finding increasing resonance among car buyers. GAC Motor Philippines recently recorded its “best-ever October performance” with total retail sales spiking by a whopping 523% year-over-year to 268 units. This is another obvious feather in the cap of the distributor since coming under the aegis of established multinational firm Astara. All told, GAC has registered YTD sales of 1,488 units — plus 305% over last year’s total during the same period.

In a statement, GAC Motor Philippines noted that sales are being driven by the all-new GS3 Emzoom (with YTD sales of 423 units since its launch four months ago) and seven-seater GS8 SUV (378 units sold YTD). Meanwhile, 124 units of the Emkoo were sold in October, and the Empow moved 118 examples.

Said GAC Motor Brand Head Franz Decloedt, “We move closer to our target of breaking 2,000 units by yearend, and this achievement bolsters our commitment and confidence in providing our customers with the utmost experience, encompassing exceptional vehicles, top-notch after-sales service, and enhanced accessibility through an expanded network of dealers.” The company is “on track” to realize 20 dealerships by the end of the year.

“Aim small, miss small,” is among the memorable lines from two seemingly disparate flicks: The Patriot and American Sniper. This tenet applies not only to the obvious topic of marksmanship, but to a myriad of areas. For sales and marketing, the “aim small, miss small” wisdom means being both purposeful and, well, not taking a sledgehammer to do work entailing finesse.

That makes sense for GAC as well as it distinguishes itself from the pack. Continued Mr. Zhang, “We enter the market’s mid-to-premium sector… there are at least two pillars we are working on. First, we need to provide good-quality products; quality means good build and service as well that can ensure the comfort and pleasure of our customers who use our products. The second pillar is applying new and high technology… then in terms of the appearance of the car, we try to utilize our global design competence to give them… a fashionable, desirable look. Internally, we use a very strong engineering space and also the latest results of our advanced technologies.”

At GAC, nowhere is high technology more apparent than at its so-called “smart factories,” particularly at GAC Aion, the “strategic core platform of GAC Group for the development of new energy vehicles featuring intelligent connectivity.”

GAC Aion is said to be the first factory of its kind in China that is devoted exclusively to the production of “new energy” vehicles, “adhering (to) the technological route of EV+ICV (pure electric + intelligent connected vehicle).” A walkthrough (sorry, we couldn’t take photos) revealed the extensive use of robots on the factory floor. In a release, GAC said that these facilities extensively incorporate IoT and big data, to realize smart manufacturing. “It’s also an intelligent eco-factory integrating digitization, intelligence, and comprehensive energy utilization, which enables users to deeply participate in defining automobiles and possesses the capability for personalized customization.”

At the moment, GAC Aion boasts two plants churning out 400,000 units a year — representing a “compound annual growth rate of over 120% and firmly maintaining a top-three position in the industry for production and sales.”

A further snapshot of all the cutting-edge stuff the GAC Group is working on can be gleaned at the GAC Technology Museum — a compendium of the past, present, and a tantalizing future. GAC appears to be working on so many things at the same time, with each vehicle release becoming a true showcase and, again, snapshot in time of what its people have come up with — such as advancements in battery tech, powertrains, and even the user experience.

The end-goal is to be able to showcase GAC’s “product value compared to competitors,” asserted Mr. Zhang. “So far, we have been successful in China. We want to maintain and extend this kind of success into the international market.”