China’s car industry isn’t very old, but in the last 20 years it’s managed to make a complete 180 from copying other brands to being an industry leader.
In a new YouTube Video, famed automotive designer Frank Stephenson takes us through the timeline of the Chinese car industry.
To demonstrate the identity crisis that the Chinese car market was having in the early 2000s, Stephenson takes a look at a few vehicles that didn’t just look to the West for inspiration but basically traced directly over their designs.
The Shuanghuan SCEO, for example, is almost a carbon copy of Stephenson’s own BMW X5 design, and even he has a hard time telling the two vehicles apart, noting that the only real giveaways are the headlights, grille, and the taillights.
Contrary to what you might think, Chinese consumers were not a fan of copycat designs, which actually caused a few manufacturers to go bankrupt due to a lack of sales.
Read More: Frank Stephenson Picks His 3 Favorite BMW Designs, What Are Yours?
Customers were desperate for an original car design, but it wasn’t until Chinese brand Chery released the Pininfarina-designed A3 Sedan in 2008 that buyers would finally get one. Because of its anonymous design, the vehicle sold well and represented a turning point for the Chinese automotive industry.
Fast forward to the modern era, and manufacturers like BYD are able to differentiate themselves in the market by offering unique designs and having a cohesive design language across their vehicle lineup. Other manufacturers such as Hongqi employ renowned designers from the luxury automotive world such as Giles Taylor from Rolls Royce and Walter De Silva of Volkswagen.
It’s not just in styling where the Chinese vehicles have evolved, but in engineering as well. For instance, the Chinese-made Nio EP9 is currently the fastest electric car around the Nurburgring with a lap time of 6 minutes 45.9 seconds.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the vehicles produced in China is the Wuling Mini EV, which only costs around $4,500 and is currently outselling the Tesla Model 3 in the country.
Stephenson ends his video by saying it’s incredible to bear witness to the evolution of an entire automotive industry, from copying designs from other brands to becoming a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.