Frankfurt, 12 September Automakers from emerging market countries, China in the lead, have revealed their intentions at the Frankfurt motor show, even though their presence had been discreet compared with the European, Japanese and US giants.
As car sales stagnate in those three regions, manufacturers have turned towards China, India and Russia, all of which had exhibitors present at the fair.
China sent the biggest delegation, with 44 stands that included automakers as well as parts companies.
Two years ago the Chinese had a timid presence at the show, known by its initials IAA, but that changed this year when the German luxury car group BMW loudly accused the manufacturer Shuanghuan of coyping one of its cars.
For most Chinese auto companies, however, coming to the shows was “a question of getting a foot into the European and US market,” said Hartwig Hirtz, who imports cars to Germany for Brilliance, a major Chinese brand.
He sold his first models this year and awaits European certification to attack 17 other markets in 2008, with an annual sales target of 15,000 units.
Getting started was not easy, however. In addition to charges of copyright violations, some Chinese cars have had catastrophic results in crash tests.
“The Chinese might not have taken European security obligations seriously enough,” Hirtz acknowledged.
For Elisabeth Young, president of Asie Auto which imports Brilliance in France, the short-term Chinese target is to “show they can do as well as the Europeans.”
“It’s important as well for the domestic market, which is very competitive, and where clients still favour European and American brands,” she said.
“Within 10 years, they want to be among the world’s biggest,” Young said.
That is expected to require the consolidation of a fragmented Chinese auto sector, however.
India, meanwhile was much more discrete, with no cars and just a few stands squeezed in next to Czech exhibitions, displaying the green, white and orange national flag.
India has nonetheless been heard from recently. Tata Motors is mulling a bid for the British luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover, which might be sold by the US group Ford.
Another Indian auto group, Mahindra, has also been suggested as a possible bidder for the British companies.
As for the Russians, Lada remained their only brand on display, and included the iconic Niva four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Lada made its first appearence in Frankfurt in 1970 and is reasonably well implanted in Europe, where it sold 25,000 cars last year.
“We have a traditional clientele that loves Ladas,” a spokesman said.
“It’s a niche market” that mainly attracts those who have less to spend, but one in which though Renault has nonetheless acheived considerable success with its Romanian-built Logan.
“On this point, we are unbeateable,” said Benoit Chambon, spokesman for AZ-Motors which will import Shuanghuan cars to France.
This year, emerging market manufacturers were still “children in the closet” at the show, according to Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the specialised research institute CAR.
But that is expected to change quickly, and at the next fair in two years they will probably appear “as serious manufacturers for the European market,” .