Hongqi, Prez Xi’s armoured ride in Chennai, wants an image makeover in China
A symbol of “made in China”, Hongqi is like Chinese prestige on wheels – a luxury brand that can – or at least that was the initial plan – rival famous foreign brands like Audi and BMW.Updated: Oct 12, 2019 16:47 IST
The Hongqi or the Red Flag, President Xi Jinping’s preferred mode of road transport during official visits, like at the just-concluded “Chennai informal summit” or at military parades, is often called a “political” car in China.
A symbol of “made in China”, Hongqi is like Chinese prestige on wheels – a luxury brand that can – or at least that was the initial plan – rival famous foreign brands like Audi and BMW.
The history of Hongqi goes back to 1958 when it was launched for the Communist Party of China (CPC) elites by the state-owned First Automotive Works (FAW).
“The first car of Hongqi, or Red Flag, was made in 1958. It is one of China’s iconic sedan brands and its vehicles have been used for parades at national celebrations,” a state media report said.
In 2012, Xi gave directions to CPC leaders that they should use locally made cars rather than foreign ones.
In 2013, foreign minister Wang Yi abandoned his Audi A6 for the latest Hongqi H7 sedan.
Soon after, Chinese media forecast a possible new dawn for Chinese brands. But only 3,000 H7s were sold in 2014.
In comparison, it took Audi just two or three days to sell the same number of cars in China, a report on the website, China.org said.
Jia Xinguang, an independent auto analyst in Beijing, had then told state media that the foreign minister’s choice of the Hongqi H7 was more political than of market significance.
“FAW builds political cars,” he said, “while automakers like Volkswagen and Toyota manufacture people’s cars -- good cars that ordinary people can afford.”
The company is now fast adapting to new trends and to newer looks, attempting to shed its sombre image associated with CPC elites.
“The company has sped up a market-oriented reform in recent years through diversifying its product mix. It now sells six models including two sedans, two SUVs, an EV, and a customized limousine,” the official news agency, Xinhua, said in a report last month.
The Xinhua reported added that in the first eight months of this year, it sold more than 52,000 vehicles, up 231 percent from a year earlier. In August it sold more than 10,000 vehicles.
In August, it began to sell the first electric model of the Hongqi brand to capture a slice of the country’s booming new energy vehicle market.
The Hongqi E-HS3, a pure electric sport utility vehicle model is priced between 225,800 yuan (around 32,000 U.S. dollars) to 265,800 yuan, FAW has said.