Witstar - Courtesy GAC Motor

Witstar – Courtesy GAC Motor

Chinese Automaker Unveils Unmanned Concept Car

Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor CO., LTD (GACM), which manufacturers and markets passenger cars under the Trumpchi brand (including the Trumpchi E-Jet plugin and other vehicles from the line featured in the Hollywood blockbuster movie “Transformers: Age of Extinction”), unveiled its highly anticipated new unmanned concept car, the “WITSTAR,” at the preeminent North American International Auto Show held in Detroit during a press conference held on January 12th, 2015. The company concurrently revealed its new fuel efficient SUV, the GS4, along with an overview of its global strategy “designed to further elevate the brand’s dynamic and creative image worldwide.”

I recently interviewed Wu Song, General Manager of GAC Motor, about these exciting new developments. Song remarked that both the WITSTAR and GS4 SUV, “exemplify automotive innovation” and will be integral in further entrenching his company as a “premier automotive design, engineering, manufacturing and marketing powerhouse.”

Q: What were GAC Group and GACM’s goals for their appearance at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)?

A: NAIAS is one of the most renowned auto shows in the world, known for its profound influence worldwide. Not only are there opportunities for exchange and learning among the brightest and most innovative in the world auto industry, but we also had the opportunity to introduce our new vehicles to the public. This year we wanted to showcase our product development and cutting edge R&D achievements, as well as cement our status as an international brand.

Since entering the market in 2010, GACM has made remarkable strides, presenting seven new models, with four in 2014 alone. Over the last four years, annual output increased from 17,000 units to 116,000. In J. D. Power’s Initial Quality Study (IQS) rating for new Chinese cars, GACM has topped the list of autos developed in China for two years running, with its score outweighing foreign brands. In 2014, GACM was awarded the Brand of the Year by China Central Television (CCTV), and the only Contributor of the Year by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Thanks to its presence in Transformers 4 and its sponsorship of the World Table Tennis Championships, GACM has stepped out onto the world stage.

Witstar - Courtesy GAC Motor

Witstar – Courtesy GAC Motor

 

Q: Regarding GACM’s new vehicles appearing in the show, what are the top technical highlights and/or consumer benefits of each?

A: GAC Motor showcased three models: the GS4 SUV, the GA6 sedan and WITSTAR. For both the GS4 and GA6, design aesthetics and power are top priorities. The design team, led by Mr. Zhang Fan, chief designer of GAC Automobile Engineering Institute, created the overall style of the GS4. The automobile offers a high-end image and unique kinetic strength in an efficient, convenient and technology-oriented space. The GS4 is also outfitted with our brand new turbo charged engine series featuring high performance and small displacement. Launched just last year, the T-7 speed power control prime combination power assembly strategy provides consumers with a powerful, green, environmentally friendly, robust and high performance driving experience.

The GA6 features dynamic elegant lines and a flexible curved surface. The exclusive Ice Blue aurora effect light creates an internal atmosphere as mysterious and deep as the starry sky. The delicate combination of the stereoscopic aesthetic thinking of the European circle and Chinese elements has formed unique design languages, rendering an eye-catching appearance for the vehicle body. A brand new 1.8T high-performance turbo charged engine and the 7-speed G-DCT manual-auto gearbox add brawn to the GA6’s beauty, realizing a full power release, smooth gear position shift, economical fuel consumption, and green exhaust emission. Through careful calibration, the century-old European luxurious sports chassis, the strongest front double wishbone, and the four-wheel independent suspension system with vertical control arm and rear multilink will present more accurate operation, more stable turning, and a perfect balance between steering and comfort.

As a purely electric-powered intelligent concept car, the WITSTAR integrates state-of-the-art technology to make unmanned driving possible. A bold breakthrough and innovation by GAC Motor, WITSTAR shows the development orientation and design thought for intelligent auto technologies in the future. WITSTAR is outfitted with a full-direction environment sensing system to collect and handle environment information in real time, and establish a 3D image of the environment around the vehicle. Coupled with a self-driving controller, it can make driving decisions based on the known guide route planning, environmental information and status of the vehicle. It’s GACM’s first intelligent concept car, researched and developed solely by the GAC Automobile Engineering Institute.

Q: The WITSTAR design is “based on GAC Motor’s independently developed and proprietary Class-B passenger vehicle platform.” Please describe and define that platform in layman’s terms.

A: The vehicle platform is the basic structure of the vehicles. Different models from the same platform may have the same structure elements, such as the wheelbase, door pillar, fender and roof contour. Since its establishment, GAC Motor has actively created platform strategies to make multiple models (sedan, SUV and MPV) available from the same platform. This improves R&D efficiency and lowers cost. At present, GAC Motor has Class-B and Class-A platforms on hand, with C-Class and A-Class in reserve. It has released the GA5, GA6, SUV GS5, GS5S and the WITSTAR from the Class-B platform, and the GA3 and GA3S from the Class-A platform, as well as the compact SUV GS4 about to debut in North America and a C-Class car to be released in the latter half of 2015. In the next five years, GAC Motor will release at least 20 models to the market. It is the platform development capacity that makes research and development of new cars possible within such a short period of time.

Q: You had waited until the NAIAS to divulge details about the GS4 in North America, your new fuel-efficient SUV under the Trumpchi Brand. Why did you refrain from releasing related information prior to the show?

A: We wanted to protect GAC Motor’s intellectual property rights. From the beginning, GACM has made protecting intellectual property rights a priority, and this has become a part of the company’s DNA. This is why we chose to release the information about the GS4 on release day and not before. We also withheld this information to help create buzz among the media and consumers, as well as heighten anticipation.

Witstar - Courtesy GAC Motor

Witstar – Courtesy GAC Motor

 

Q: GAC Group officially announced its “overseas strategy” in the NAIAS show. Does that mean the GAC Group has new plans in accelerating its progress of globalization? What does the GAC Group want to achieve?

A: The GAC Group will take the medium and high end models, and GAC Motor’s new energy model to the North American market. We also intend to expand the overseas market and increase the sales volume. Currently, GACM exports to the Mid-East, Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and East Europe, with an additional 1,000 vehicles exported to Kuwait, topping the Chinese brands there. GAC Motor plans to export 5,000 finished automobiles in 2015, totaling 500,000 finished automobiles sold by 2017 (over 10% exported), and aggregate one million finished automobiles sold by 2020 (over 20% exported).

We also seek to improve the influence of the GAC Motor brand and improve the overall perception of Chinese brands. GAC Motor has always insisted on creating safe, high-quality and high-performance cars with advanced proprietary technologies. Along with the expansion of the overseas market and the performance on the international arena, GAC Motor will count on its proprietary technology to change the “low price for low quality” stereotype of Chinese autos, and achieve a quantum leap in quality and brand reputation for Chinese automobiles.

Q: How will GAC compete in the North American market?

A: By improving quality and service. GACM has unique core power technologies and provides consumers with an unparalleled driving experience. Our four guiding service commitments are profession, thoughtfulness, innovation and trust. With the expansion of the overseas market, we’ll set up a sales team based on the local market to provide North American consumers with refined quality and service.

GAC Motor will also release different models in different overseas markets with appropriate accompanying strategies. Before entering the North American market, we’ll have a full understanding of the culture and consumption features of the North American auto market and release models accordingly.

We’ll also compete by realizing local production in the future. Local production will not only lower the cost, but create a favorable brand image in the overseas market, thus forming a truly increasing international competitiveness.

Witstar - Courtesy GAC Motor

Witstar – Courtesy GAC Motor

 

Q: Do you have any partnerships with European or American automakers? If so, what are the details and the goals?

A: On Jan. 15, 2013, FIAT and Chrysler signed the framework agreement to expand the production and sales of passenger cars in China with GAC Group. This framework agreement for cooperative expansion will explore more space for the development of their products in China on one hand, and promote the sustainable development in the future of the joint-capital companies of GAC Group as well as bring quality models and services to Chinese consumers on the other.

Q: When will the WITSTAR and GS4 be available to consumers, and what will dealership rollout look like?

A: The GS4 will be officially available on the Chinese market in April as the first new model in 2015. It’s estimated to be exported to the overseas market in the fourth quarter of 2015, mainly to markets in key regions of the Mid-East, Africa, South America and East Europe. The WITSTAR currently maintains its status as a concept car, but will lead the way for future R&D in the alternative energy car category.

Q: Speaking of the overseas marketing, in addition to GAC’s appearance in Transformers 4 and sponsorship of the World Table Tennis Championship, are there any other entertainment or sports-driven promotional plans in the future?

A: GAC Motor will continue to sponsor international events in compliance with our brand positioning and image. Besides Transformers 4 and the World Table Tennis Championships, GAC Motor also takes active part in events such as the “2014 Human Envoy China-France 10,000-li March in Asia and Europe” to promote the diplomatic exchange between China and other nations. In the future, GAC Motor will also participate in entertainment and welfare programs in line with our brand positioning as well as enrich its brand connotation and establish its brand culture with sponsorships and promotions according to the brand values of GAC Motor: Quality, Safety, Innovation and Pleasure. The emphasis on cooperative endeavors shall be placed on mutual promotion, supplementation of each other’s advantages, and mutual benefit. In the future, GAC Motor will improve its brand popularity and reputation, and enhance its cultural accumulation in a way designed to best appeal to consumers.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided and/or sponsored to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***