Chinese car manufacturers struggle against a reputation for ‘rubbish’ quality, ‘appalling’ design and a disturbing smell of glue
The Geely LC is a classic Chinese car: cheap and cheerful, with a design said to have been inspired by a happy panda. A South African car reviewer recently showered it with relative praise. “Cheap and not at all nasty,” said the headline. The reviewer noted the usual reputation of Chinese cars in Africa: “rubbish” quality, “appalling” design and a disturbing smell of glue. Chinese automakers must overcome this credibility problem as they ramp up exports and build new assembly plants in Africa, in an attempt to maintain growth despite sluggish car sales back home. Call it the “fong kong” curse — a slang term in South Africa for cheap made-in-China products that fall apart soon after purchase. Zimbabweans similarly call low-quality Chinese products “zhing zhong.” While China’s auto industry is the world’s biggest, new vehicle sales in the Middle Kingdom have slumped due to the country’s cooling economy, and manufacturers are making a push overseas, according to a 2012 report by the international consults KPMG. Africa, along with Latin America and Southeast Asia, are seen as key markets with long-term growth potential.