Far from the bright lights and sophistication of its base in Shanghai, General Motors has developed a secret weapon in the duel for supremacy in the Chinese market. In 2010, SGMWuling, or Wuling for short, generated roughly 50% of all GM’s sales in China.
Based in LiuZhou, a gritty industrial city some 1,400 kilometers (875 miles) south of Shanghai, Wuling is now the single largest brand sold in all of China – by far dominating the more familiar Buick brand that was GM;s first entry into the Chinese market. Wuling’s small, utilitarian vans dominate one of the largest and most important segments in China’s fast-growing vehicle market and it’s quickly adding capacity to capitalize on its recent success.
In addition, Wuling is launching its own car brand, Baojun, which will fill in price points below Chevrolet and appeal to motorists in China’s second, third and fourth-tier cities where buyers tend to be more concerned about value and affordability than status.
“Wuling is most respected in rural areas,” notes Kevin Wale, president of GM China, adding Baojun is aimed at market where buyers want value. Thus, the prices for the Baojun 630, which was unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show last week, is expected to start at around $8,500. SGMW hasn’t confirmed any prices yet, however no vehicle in the line now costs more than $9,500.
Wuling already sells one passenger car, the Letchi, which is based on the old Chevrolet Spark, and the plans are to add more models to the Baojun line fairly quickly. It will compete for sales in inland China with regional brands that play an important role for ambitious local Chinese auto companies such as Geely and Chery.
Matthew Tsien, Wuling vice president and one of a small cadre of GM personnel assigned to LiuZhou, explained that Wuling is a three-way joint venture between GM, its Shanghai-based partner SAIC and a local, state-owned enterprise, LiuZhou Wuling Motor Co. Ltd.