AT A time when most carmakers are struggling to cope with the worst crisis the industry has experienced in living memory, the ambitions of Geely, China’s biggest privately owned car firm, are breathtaking. The company is simultaneously developing six modern platforms—an astonishing number even for a global giant such as Toyota—and is committed to launching nine new cars in the next 18 months and up to 42 new models by 2015. Its technical director, Frank Zhao, claims that Geely will have the capacity to make 2m cars a year by then.
Whether Geely will be able to sell anything like that number of cars is another matter. The firm says its sales for the six months to the end of June reached 138,000, fuelled partly by government tax breaks aimed at boosting demand for the smaller cars made by China’s indigenous manufacturers. That implies a rise from a year ago of no less than 52%, nearly three times the rate at which the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) estimates the market grew in the same period. But the numbers are confusing: J.D. Power Asia, an automotive market-research firm, reckons Geely sold more cars than that, but from a higher base, leaving its growth slightly below that of the market as a whole. Geely itself uses different figures in different statements.
At the Shanghai motor show in April, no exhibitor had a bigger stand. On display were three new sub-brands—Gleagle (affordable saloons and small utility vehicles), Emgrand (sporty and prestige vehicles) and Shanghai Englon (“heritage” designs)—embracing more than 20 models and their variants, including six that were all new. Among them were the outrageous Shanghai Englon GE concept, a mini-me of the Rolls-Royce Phantom with a single throne-like seat in the back; the Emgrand EX825, a blingy SUV scheduled for launch next year; and the Gleagle EK2, a small battery-powered hatchback that is said to be close to production. Also on the stand was Geely’s version of the London black cab, the product of a joint venture with Manganese Bronze Holdings, the British company that owns London Taxi International.