SHANGHAI — Over the last decade, Chinese carmakers' exports to emerging markets have thinned to a trickle after key regions such as Russia, Brazil, North Africa and the Middle East encountered economic or social instability.
Now equipped with better technology and a new generation of products, Chinese brands are regrouping to expand overseas by targeting Europe and a select group of major emerging markets.
Leading the effort are Geely Automobile Holdings — the top domestic Chinese passenger vehicle maker — and Great Wall Motor Co., China's largest light-truck manufacturer.
The trade dispute between China and the U.S. prompted Geely to suspend plans to build vehicles under its premium Lynk & CO brand at affiliate Volvo's plant in South Carolina. But the company remains committed to launching the brand in Europe.
Lynk & CO, whose products share a platform with the Volvo XC40, will launch sales in Western Europe in the first half of 2020, Geely President An Conghui said this month in Zhuhai, where he kicked off sales of Geely's first multipurpose vehicle. The company also plans to introduce Geely-badged vehicles in Europe, including the MPV, An noted, though he didn't provide details.
After acquiring a 49.9 percent stake in Malaysian car brand Proton in 2017, Geely has made Southeast Asia one of its main export markets. In December, it started shipping the right-hand-drive version of the Boyue compact crossover to Malaysia. The vehicle is now distributed there under the Proton brand.
Geely plans to sell more models through Proton's dealerships, An added. The vehicles will eventually be assembled at Proton's plant and sold across Southeast Asia, according to Geely's plan.
In 2017, Geely opened a joint-venture assembly plant in Belarus with BelAZ, a manufacturer of mining dump trucks. The factory, which builds the Boyue, will supply Russia and other former Soviet republics as its capacity grows.
Great Wall also sees Russia and its neighbors as key markets. Its new assembly plant in the Tula Oblast region of central Russia is to begin output in the coming month, with annual capacity of up to 150,000 vehicles. The factory will produce utility vehicles for Great Wall's Haval brand.
Great Wall is also preparing to sell SUVs under its premium Wey brand and small sedans under its electric vehicle marque Ora in Europe.
It just signed a deal with German tuning specialist Brabus to revamp the powertrain, interior and exterior of its Wey-badged SUVs for European customers. The first product of that partnership will be displayed this year at the Frankfurt auto show.
Great Wall also expects to launch an Ora subcompact EV in Western Europe in late 2020, Michael Ning, vice president of Great Wall, told Automotive News China in December.
Others seeking to sell EVs in Europe include Chery Automobile Co., which unveiled an electric crossover in 2017 at the Frankfurt auto show; and BAIC Motor Corp., which displayed a concept electric crossover this month in Geneva; and startups such as Aiways and Byton.
President Donald Trump's tariffs have slowed Chinese carmakers' moves to establish sales in the U.S., but there are no signs their renewed enthusiasm to venture into other markets has been affected.