GAC and Astara prepping the market for many upcoming models
It was hard to miss the excitement in the voice (and facial expression) of Chu Song, the frontman of GAC Motor for the international market, including the Philippines.
In the first eight months of 2023, the decisions he and GAC partner distributor partner Astara made resulted in soaring sales. He is eager. He wants to push the brand further by bringing in more models and laying the plans for us on what GAC will launch in our market.
Astara's Timmy De Leon was getting a little wide-eyed, quickly jumping in to rein in expectations and any additional information.
"We will make the proper announcements in due time," she said with a wry smile. She is a pro who knows how to manage information going to the press.
That was the scenario on the final night of our four-day experience in Guangzhou, China. GAC wanted to show us what they got, and they had company bigwigs like GAC R&D Center boss Xu Yang Hui, GAC International's Wang Shun Sheng and Japanese executive Kinnosuke Harimoto, who focuses on service for GAC International at the event.
If it were not for the past three days touring the GAC and its EV brand Aion R&D and manufacturing plants, I would be cynical of their excitement. But it was clear that their enthusiasm is born out of pride in their work through 15 years of automaking. I know that is not a long time in car-speak, but they have accelerated knowledge through partnerships with Toyota and Honda. These key collaborations helped GAC but do not define them. According to GAC design chief Zhang Fan, special agreements prevent them from using patented information to develop GAC vehicles, and that was good, as it helped them create a distinct identity for all their products.
One of the noticeable takeaways from the partnership with the two Japanese car brands, aside from the knowledge transfer, is the practice of being on time, all the time, and the cleanliness of all GAC facilities, whether it is the tech museum, R&D buildings, or manufacturing plants. And unlike other Chinese auto plants I have seen, the last part did not feel like a sweep-the-dirt-under-the-rug job-because-we-have-guests kind of thing, but a discipline the company adheres to daily.
Even the manufacturing plant looks very high-tech. I saw robots in different sections doing tasks like stamping, welding, painting, and assembling cabin equipment. There were robots rolling on tracks along the alleys to deliver parts and components to different locations. It is a symphony of automated machinery running like clockwork that makes the entire process efficient and fast.
So, now that we have established the competency of GAC, I will give you an idea of what is going on in Guangzhou. GAC and Aion are working on several things, some of which have already made it to production models. Take the Sponge-like Silicon Anode Technology, for example. This silicon negative sheet reduces the volume of lithium-ion batteries by 20% and the weight by 14%, which prolongs the battery service life, improves reliability and extends the driving range to 1,000 kilometers. GAC already uses it in the Aion LX electric crossover SUV.
Next month, the twin-motor, zero-emission roadster Enpulse will get a production model after three years of development. Do not yawn because they also have the GOVE (Guangzhou Automobile Group on-the-go vertical flight electric vehicle) one-seater flying vehicle; a space-age, lightweight, and high-performing carbon fiber rotor motor built by Aion and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation; and the Quark Electric Drive Technology that lets a vehicle go from 0-100 km/h in 1.9 seconds, to name a few.
Now for the fun part. Usually, manufacturers present all their vehicles (for viewing/bragging and test drives), but do not specifically list down models aimed at regional markets. GAC gave us a document saying these are "Key Models" for the Asian market.
We already have the GS3 Emzoom, Emkoo, Empow (but not the Empow R yet), GS4, GS8, and GN6. But those are not the only vehicles on the list. There are five potential PH-bound models. Care to know what they are?
There is the M8 Grand Master. It is a luxury seven-seater minivan with a grille that looks like the mane of a lion, a 14.6-inch touchscreen in the front row, a 15.6-inch monitor in the two-seater second row with ottoman and massage captain’s seats, a panoramic sunroof, and two engine options – a 2.0L turbo gas engine and a 2.0L hybrid system.
Its more upscale sibling is the E9 PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) flagship multi-purpose vehicle of GAC. It has a 136-kilometer EV (electric vehicle) range, 16 Yamaha speakers, and three screens mounted on the dashboard. Under its hood is a 2.0TM intelligent electric hybrid system. How much is it? The base model in China goes for PHP 2.668 million.
With more Chinese brands bringing in pure electric models, GAC let their Aion EV brand do all the talking on the makeshift track.
A noteworthy vehicle, and what could be a halo model for GAC PH, is the Aion Hyper GT. It is a luxury four-door electric sedan with wing doors and Level 2 + autonomous driving capability (steer and accelerate by itself). What is great about this model is the electric powertrain (single motor with 340 HP and 434 Nm of torque) that lets it go from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds. An 800-volt charging system gives it a 450-kilometer range in just 15 minutes. Its Chinese Yuan price converted is PHP 2.027 million.
If you seek more family-oriented electric models, there is the Aion S Plus and the Aion Y Plus. The former is a four-door sedan with 200 HP and 225 Nm of torque, while the latter is a compact crossover with similar output. Both have L2 advanced driver assist systems.
GAC PH does not have a hybrid model or an EV in the country. They also have yet to send an entry to the luxury minivan segment. There are still many markets to fill, but judging by the cautious moves by new GAC Philippines exec Franz Decloedt, they are not rushing anything.
Their deliberate moves are a good balance to the healthy appetite of GAC Motor. If there is anyone who needs to get excited, it has to be you.