Current Location:Home > COMMENTARY > HELUN >

Is Vehicle Class Still That Important?

Date:04-17 13:59 Authour:He Lun

——Auto Market Hotspots Q&A (122)

The Chevrolet Equinox was launched as a midsize SUV, but debuted at a starting price of only RMB 174,900 Yuan, which packed a punch in the JV-brand compact SUV market. This has drawn a lot of attention and also triggered some heated discussions.

Q: RMB 174,900 Yuan is by far the lowest price for a mainstream JV-brand midsize SUV. Some people argue that the Equinox is actually a compact SUV, although SAIC-GM calls it a “strong midsize car”. What do you think?

  Is Vehicle Class Still That Important?     

 Is Vehicle Class Still That Important?

A: Nowadays, vehicle classes are really confusing. The Tiguan was supposed to be a compact SUV, but has become a midsize one after being lengthened; the Teramont is positioned lower than the standard full-size SUV – the Touareg, but it’s much bigger than the latter; the DS7 is positioned as a luxury-brand compact SUV, but its wheelbase is 2.725m, fully 8cm longer than some midsize SUVs like the Range Rover Evoque and the Lexus NX… So to some extent, the boundaries in vehicle size and wheelbase have already been broken.

The body size and wheelbase of the Chevrolet Equinox are both within the midsize range, and even a little larger than those of the Jeep Cherokee, so there are certainly grounds for calling it a midsize SUV; but some people argue that American cars are always larger than others, so the Equinox is actually a compact SUV. Apparently SAIC-GM doesn’t want to argue too much about this issue and has simply defined the Equinox as a “strong midsize car”. In China, “midsize car” is a pretty fuzzy class, but I find it quite suitable to describe the Equinox because this model is indeed positioned in a “fuzzy zone” below its brother model – the Buick Envision and above the JV-brand compact SUVs.

In fact, I don’t really think it matters whether the Equinox is a compact or midsize car. What matters is that it is much larger than compact cars and yet it is priced at the same level. What’s more, it offers many more configurations, even more than a midsize car. Such a high performance to cost ratio tells its own story.

Q: The all-new Jeep concept car, which is soon to be unveiled at Shanghai Auto Show, is said to be positioned below the Grand Cherokee, but it is bigger than the Grand Cherokee as it is a 7-seat SUV. Is it a consistent trend that cars are becoming bigger and bigger?

A: I’ve heard about this concept car from Jeep. It should be similar to the Teramont – larger than the model in a higher class under the same brand. In addition to this the LYNK & CO 01, a model of Geely’s new brand also to be unveiled at the auto show, is a cross-class compact SUV too. With a wheelbase of 2.73m, it is even longer than the Equinox, so it is no exaggeration at all to call it an A++-class SUV; the Roewe i6 is a compact car, but its wheelbase is up to 2.715m, which falls within the midsize range.

Apparently, these new-generation models like the Teramont, the new Jeep model, the LYNK & CO 01 and the Roewe i6 were designed specifically to cater to the Chinese customer’s preference for “large”. American users also prefer “large” cars. So making large cars has really become an ongoing trend now - that, or you can say that Chinese market demands have become a benchmark in automobile design around the world.  

Q: Some say that compact (A-class) cars are just that - compact A-class cars, no matter how large they might be or how many plus signs they put after the “A”. The same is true with midsize (B-class) cars – they can never be full-size (C-class) ones, because a vehicle class is determined by chassis suspension system, technology, dynamic performance and manufacturing process. What do you think?

A: There is a point but it is not totally right. For example, many compact and midsize cars now have the same suspension system – McPherson suspension at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear. Even the Ford Explorer, a full-size car, also has the same suspension system, despite some differences in the specific structure, material quality and tuning. Particularly since modular platforms have become standard, the same hi-tech configuration can be used in three different classes of models. So configurations can be combined freely according to market needs, further breaking the boundaries between classes. Take the Geely Boyue and the Roewe i6 for example. Although they are A-class cars, their hi-tech configurations are even better than those of some JV-brand B-class cars.

Q: Do you mean that the traditional “A, B and C” classification method is outdated? And now we only need to classify cars by wheelbase, body size, technology and configuration?

A: The classification method that classifies cars into A, B, C and D-classes came from Volkswagen. It is a very complicated system, and some of the standards have already been broken by Volkswagen’s own models, like the Teramont and the Tiguan L.  American and some Japanese cars also have their own classification systems. Manufacturing processes and interior materials are also part of the classification criteria, but some models apparently offer more than the standard configuration in their class, especially in terms of the NVH level, which, to a great extent, determines driving comfort and also constitutes the biggest part of R&D costs. This is something you cannot see or touch but can only experience. For example, the NVH level of the Qoros 3 and the Roewe i6 exceeds the standard level of their class. Of course, models in different classes still differ in other features, like the dynamic performance. But all in all, what media now call compact, midsize, full-size and large are not necessarily equal to A, B, C and D-class cars. They are just terms to describe the body size.

Q: In the context of this trend, competition among cars seems to be more complicated. For example, a standard midsize (B-class) car will find itself facing another rival which comes with much the same size, configuration and brand premium but is priced much lower; or a standard compact (A-class) car will have to compete with a rival which is larger in size but priced at the same level. Is this the so-called “staggered competition”? And will it cause misunderstandings among consumers?

A: Actually in German news reports, we often see this kind of “stagger competition”. For instance, not long ago, the well0known German automobile magazine AUTOZEITUNG made a comparison among models rated at about 200HP, namely the Skoda Kodiaq, the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Ford Edge, the Hyundun Santa Fe, the BMW X3 and the Mercedes Benz GLC. These models are of different brands and classes. With price also taken into account in this comparison, the Kodiaq ultimately came out the biggest winner.

Is Vehicle Class Still That Important?

Before that, the German magazine Auto Bild compared the Skoda Octavia with the BMW 3-series, the Skoda Superb and the Mercedes Benz E-class, and the well-known ams also compared the Superb, the BMW 3-series and the Ford Mondeo. In these cross-brand and cross-class model battles, Skoda is always the winner.

Of course, Skoda is still Skoda. German consumers are very clear about how it differs from BMW and Mercedes Benz, which shows the maturity and rationality of auto circles in Germany.  

Is Vehicle Class Still That Important?

Q: The models we have talked about all excel in both size and configuration. But is there any model that is actually low-tech but still claims to be of a higher class and sells at a higher price just because it is a little larger?

A: There really are some models like that. They call themselves higher-class cars just because they are slightly larger than others in the same class. For example, the Nissan Qashqai is supposed to be a small SUV, but it calls itself a compact one. Of course, it is still priced as a small SUV. There are also some low-tech cars like the SAIC HS S3. It is positioned as a compact SUV, but it uses the chassis of a van. Luckily, it knows its true position and thus comes in at a very low price – the lowest price among local-brand compact SUVs.  

The point is that Chinese consumers are getting more mature. If carmakers try to sell low-tech products at high prices, they will only harm themselves because Chinese consumers are no longer so easy to fool. 

©copyright 2015