Missing Out? The Japanese And Korean-Branded Cars Sold Only In China

It’s clear the Chinese market has become the most important automotive market in the world—new vehicle registrations in 2017 totalled around 24 million, compared to 17 million in the US. Another sign is the increased attention automakers are giving this insurgent market, including developing new China-exclusive models. And there’s one sign that well and truly shows China is number one: Honda has developed an Acura model exclusively for China. Yes, Acura, the brand started up specifically for the American market. The torch has been passed.

That Acura is the CDX. Effectively, it’s a Honda HR-V – right down to the torsion beam rear suspension – wrapped in new sheetmetal and featuring the Civic’s turbo 1.5 four and an attractive and an authentically Acura interior. However, it’s not available in the US. Wow, that’s like having a large-ish Honda crossover and not selling it in the US…

…which is the story of the Accord-based Avancier, Honda’s rival for the Nissan Murano. Introduced in 2016, the Avancier dusted off a nameplate last used on a Japan-exclusive station wagon. Now, it’s a China-exclusive crossover with a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines: a 1.5 and a 2.0.

Like Volkswagen, Honda’s Chinese operations consist of two joint ventures: Dongfeng Honda and Guangqi Honda. Both ventures’ products are sold under the Honda nameplate which does make things a tad confusing. The UR-V, for example, is based on the Avancier but with a bluffer, more attractive front fascia.

The UR-V and Avancier replaced the Crosstour so if you ever wondered what a second-generation Crosstour would look like, here you go.

Did you think Lincoln’s alphanumeric names were confusing? Honda also has the XR-V, a mildly restyled version of the HR-V from Dongfeng Honda. China may be the last stronghold of the sedan but even the Chinese are rapidly and enthusiastically embracing the crossover. Honda wisely has the Chinese market covered with a wide range of crossovers. It’s certainly been more responsive than Volkswagen.

While Guangqi Honda produces the Accord, Dongfeng Honda has their own mid-size sedan. They previously sold the European Accords/Acura TSX as the Spirior but when it was discontinued, they developed their own Spirior.

While it appears Honda has tried to maintain subtly different visual identities for their parallel Chinese lineups, the curvaceous side sculpting and multi-faceted headlights of Guangqi’s Crider resemble Dongfeng’s Spirior. The Crider is smaller, however, and is positioned between the Civic and the Accord. Although it’s an inch longer than the Civic sedan, the Crider is actually based on the sub-Civic, Fit-derived City sedan.

Chinese customers can buy the City sedan and parallel Griez sedan, as well as a hatchback called the Gienia. This is effectively a hatchback version of a sedan version of a hatchback, being sold in a market scarcely more enthusiastic for hatchbacks as North America. Still, Honda has to be commended for the sheer variety it offers. It’s paying off—Honda overtook Toyota and Ford in sales in 2016 with 1.25 million vehicles sold, although it remains far behind leaders like Volkswagen.

Some Hondas developed for China have even found their way back to Japan, such as the surprisingly slinky Jade people mover.

Measuring as long as a Civic sedan but offering three rows of seating, the Jade is pretty and practical.

I know small vans and wagons don’t typically have much of a market outside Japan and Europe but maybe they would if they looked like this!

Nissan is aggressively pursuing market share in the Chinese market in the hopes to push itself up from the second tier and catch up to GM and Volkswagen, recently announcing an investment of $9.5 billion. Nissan heavily publicized the debut of its Chinese-designed Lannia sedan in 2015, first previewed in concept form in 2014. The Lannia, they said, was the company’s first vehicle designed specifically for the youth of China and designed to appeal to these “energetic trendsetters with new values and aspirations.” Take away the marketing fluff and you had a conventional front-wheel-drive Nissan sedan, its styling reminiscent of the larger 2015 Maxima sold in China and North America.

Measuring 2.4 inches longer than a Sentra, the Lannia is comfortably smaller than the Maxima it slavishly apes. Its name in Chinese translates to Bluebird, a nice call-back to one of Nissan’s long-lived model lines. While the Maxima stylish cues appear overwrought on a smaller vehicle, it’s interesting to see an automaker try a more daring design in the Chinese market, which traditionally has been fond of conservative sedans.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance sells the Renault, Nissan and Infiniti brands in China through their partnership with Dongfeng Motor Co. In 2010, they introduced a fourth brand: Venucia. Historically, foreign brands used new, Chinese sub-brands as a way to flog last season’s vehicles. This was because of legislation that effectively meant the intellectual property pertaining to sub-brand’s vehicles became the property of said brand, and foreign brands didn’t want to surrender valuable IP. The Venucia range initially consisted of restyled, last-generation Nissans but lately Nissan has been serving fresher wares. These include the E30, a rebadged Leaf, and the T90.

Serving as Venucia’s flagship, the T90 is based on the Nissan Murano and has a coupe-crossover profile reminiscent of the old Honda Crosstour. It also has a whopping 12.3-inch touchscreen inside, larger even than upscale Nissans like the Maxima and Murano.

While it has a bigger dash screen than those Nissans, it has a much smaller engine: the sole powertrain is a naturally-aspirated 2.0 four with 142 hp and 146 ft-lbs, good for only a 12 second sprint to 60mph, mated to Nissan’s ubiquitous CVT. Well, it can’t overshadow Nissan-branded products too much…

The long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70L found its way out of China, arriving in North America in 2015, but the Q50L so far remains exclusive to China. It measures 2 inches longer than the regular Q50.

The Chinese lineup otherwise mirrors the North American Infiniti range except for the ESQ. A flimsy rebadge in the vein of the Buick Velite, the ESQ is a Nissan Juke with a different grille. Even the Cadillac Cimarron was better differentiated.

The Juke isn’t a bad car, being rather sprightly and fun-to-drive for its segment. But the ESQ is such a cynical rebadge, with no sheetmetal changes and the exact same interior. Chinese buyers may be none the wiser, however, as the Juke isn’t sold in China. Instead, Nissan has the newer and fresher Kicks subcompact crossover sold in various markets. Still, does the ESQ look like an Infiniti to you?

Nissan’s crossovers can be rather polarizing. Mazda’s, in contrast, are much more traditionally handsome and Chinese customers have two additional models to choose from: the CX-4 and CX-8. The CX-8 is available in other markets – it arrives soon in Australia – and is effectively a CX-9 that’s available with a diesel and is a little narrower and shorter. You’d be hard-pressed to tell, however, with styling that’s almost identical.

The CX-4 is a different story and, sadly, it looks like it will remain exclusive to China. It cuts a sleek silhouette, three inches longer than the CX-5 that spawned it and with which it shares its wheelbase.

It’s the beauty queen of the segment and is arguably the best interpretation of Mazda’s Kodo design language.

The fourth-generation Elantra, sold as the Elantra Yuedong.

Beijing Hyundai is like your aunt that washes and reuses plastic cups and disposable plates. Old Hyundais continue to be manufactured and sold alongside their successors, meaning you can choose from three different generations of Elantra, three different generations of Sonata, two generations of Verna (Accent), and two generations of Tucson. That’s in addition to Chinese-exclusive models like the Mistra.

The Mistra slots between the Elantra and the Sonata in terms of overall size (it’s 4 inches shorter than the Sonata), which makes it conceptually similar to the European i40. Its styling is just a tad more conservative, however.

You might think the Celesta is a similarly modern Hyundai, what with its chiselled styling and strong familial resemblance, inside and out, to the latest Hyundai models. You’d be wrong. The Celesta is actually a masterfully repackaged version of the fourth-generation of Elantra which, yes, is also still sold in China (as the Elantra Yuedong). Conceptually, then, the Celesta is similar to other Chinese offerings like the Chevrolet Cavalier and Ford Escort.

Ix35 was the old global name for the Tucson and is now used on both the old Tucson and a new, Chinese-exclusive redesign of… well, the old Tucson.

While some of Beijing Hyundai’s vehicles have old bones, most of them look rather modern and competitive. But automakers in China have a long history of flogging horribly dated wares and Beijing Hyundai is no exception. This is the Mingyu, a thinly veiled version of the 1998 fourth-generation Sonata.

Oftentimes, old, low-tech Chinese models don’t receive a Western name and the Mingyu is no exception. But despite its age – or perhaps because of it – it remains a popular choice with taxi drivers.

Kia’s Chinese lineup has an old retread of its own, but with a twist. The old 2003 Spectra/Cerato is still around but is now a plug-in hybrid, dubbed 300E, wearing the Horki sub-brand name.

Despite the new technology, the Horki is quite clearly an old Kia with a push-up bra and some extra make-up. Other Kias manufactured by Dongfeng Yueda Kia are thoroughly modern, like the handsome KX Cross based on the current Rio.

There’s also the K4, another “tweener” sedan à la the Hyundai Mistra and Nissan Lannia that offers more rear legroom than a regular Forte/Cerato. Kia in China largely follows their home market naming scheme and therefore the Forte/Cerato is badged K3 there.

As you’ve seen so far, the Chinese market has embraced crossovers with open arms and automakers’ Chinese operations have been more agile at adapting to this global trend. The KX3 is Kia’s version of the B-segment Hyundai ix25/Creta sold in developing markets. Kia also keeps the old Sportage around and, although Beijing Hyundai has a large range of very old Hyundais for sale, Dongfeng Yueda Kia only has a few.

The Chinese automotive market has such astonishing variety and this series has barely scratched the surface, considering how many domestic brands there are. If you’re an automaker, you can’t afford not to have a presence in China and if you are merely an observer following the automotive industry, you can’t afford not to keep an eye on what’s going on in China.

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