India’s burgeoning automotive demand and a sustained push by the government towards electric mobility has led to nearly a dozen Chinese companies entering India over the last three-to-four years.
While some of these companies are tying up with Indian entities, others have entered on their own and are setting up manufacturing facilities and R&D centres.
These China-headquartered companies manufacture e-scooters, e-bikes, electric three-wheelers, petrol-powered performance bikes, SUVs, luxury cars, buses and construction equipment.
Lesser known Chinese entities such as Benling, CFMOTO, SUNRA, Gemopai Electric, Evoke Motorcycles to name a few have already entered India. Zhejiang Rongda Industry & Trade, Jiangsu Kingbon Vehicle and Zhejiang Linghang Electronics have partnered Indian companies to jointly produce vehicles.
Some of these companies manufacture fully electric vehicles, an area where the Indian government is taking new strides. Benling India Energy and Technology, a direct subsidiary of Guangdong Sheng-based Dongguan Benling Vehicle Technology Co, for instance has invested Rs 10 crore to set up an assembly unit in Manesar for rolling out low-speed electric scooters.
Other more widely known brands like Volvo Cars (owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), MG Motors (owned by SAIC Motor Corporation), Benelli (owned by Zhejiang Qianjiang Motorcycle Group Co), Great Wall Motors Company and Sany Heavy Industry Co have established manufacturing facilities and R&D operations.
There is a clear desperation by the Chinese companies to enter India. For instance CFMOTO, a $400 million Hangzhou, China-based company, has tied up with AMW Motorcycles, which is part of the now defunct and debt-ridden AMW Motors that produces medium and heavy trucks.
Revolt Intellicorp, promoted by Micromax Mobiles founder Rahul Sharma, showcased electric bikes in June that were based on bikes produced by Shanghai-headquartered SOCO. The Revolt RV400 looks identical to the Super SOCO TS1200R.
An aggressive lot
Market watchers, however, say that the current breed of Chinese companies have a different but aggressive approach towards the Indian market compared to the earlier flock.
“Earlier companies like Lifan and Beiqi Foton tried to find their footing in India. But bad product quality and corporate indecision led to their quiet exit from India. Today’s Chinese companies are different, they are much more ambitious and serious about having a slice of the Indian automotive pie,” said a senior executive who provides consultancy services to auto companies.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) procured and ran several units of air-conditioned King Long buses. The BEST undertaking was forced to blacklist the company after multiple instances of the buses catching fire or breaking down. Till date many associate the buses with Chinese make, thanks to the misinformation spread by the BEST, while the buses were actually built in Punjab by JCBL. The damage to the brand, however, was done.
The Lifan Group, which had tied up with Delhi-based Monto Motors for launching cheap motorcycles in India, was partly responsible for eroding the brand image of Chinese products. Their 100cc and 125cc bikes had several quality issues leading to their eventual exit from India.
But to beat this poor brand recall, Chinese companies devised new ways. SAIC, China’s largest car maker, decided to invoke MG Motors, a 90-year old British brand that laid in slumber for most part of the last few decades. MG (Morris Garages) recently launched its first SUV Hector (Rs 12.18 lakh) in India, which is based on the Baojun 530: an SUV sold in China.
Goldstone Infratech, an Indo-China joint venture company comprising BYD of China, changed its name to Olectra Greentech last year. Goldstone was accused by India truck and bus makers of offering buses at very low prices, backed by subsidy from the Chinese government. Goldstone emerged as one of the largest bidders for supplying electric buses to Indian cities.
It remains to be seen if the latest entrants are more successful than their predecessors.