SAIC Maxus drives Chinese auto industry through innovation
China’s auto industry is soon expected to enter the new normal, as the economy enters a more mature phase of growth compared to the rapid expansion of recent years; and the auto industry is expected to continue to grow driven by relentless technological innovation.
At the 2017 Shanghai auto show on April 19, SAIC Maxus, a brand of China’s largest automaker SAIC Motor, displayed a new concept SUV car –– the D90, the first smart and customized vehicle type which can be mass produced.
Many types of vehicle including passenger cars, electric cars and recreational vehicles (RV), were also presented at the exhibition.
The vehicle collection presented by Maxus brand is an excellent example of the innovation of Chinese auto brands.
“Chinese auto brands have displayed their advantages in market occupation, sales and brand influence. SAIC Maxus can be matched by joint-venture brands on business model and technical strengths, under its brand concept of technology, trust and effort,” said Lan Qingsong, vice-president of SAIC Motor.
SAIC Maxus has been focusing on interaction with users, accumulating their needs and feedback into a large database. Thus the company set up a big data operating center to adjust its industrial chain based on analysis of user needs.
The company’s efforts at innovation are far more than that. Since its founding six years ago, SAIC Maxus has taken advantage of its technical strengths to increase its own competitiveness, developing both domestic and overseas vehicle types, traditional, and new energy cars.
The D90 is a key exhibit of SAIC Maxus at this year’s Shanghai auto show, not only because it is representative of the company’s products targeted at the middle and high-end SUV market, but also because it represents the collective wisdom of users, designers and engineers.
The automobile industry is transforming from the model of "business to customer" (B2C), where the car manufacturers produce vehicles on a large scale and market them to customers, to "customer to business" (C2B), where users' participation becomes an essential part of the manufacturing process and their individual demands are fully taken into account.
To achieve this aim SAIC Maxus built a digital interactive platform allowing users to define, design and test cars. At the 2017 Shanghai auto show, SAIC Maxus launched a smarter version of the platform, on which users are now able to configure and fix vehicle prices. A total of 600,000 users have participated in the car manufacturing process, including in definition, development, authentication, pricing, configuration and improvement.
The D90 is a pioneer product of SAIC Maxus, which adopts the C2B model. During the production of the SUV D90 concept car, more than 1,000 users participated in an offline survey and over 300,000 users took part in the test driving of different products via its interactive platform, putting forward suggestions for the product's 18 specifications. The designers, engineers and management team of the D90 were a group of Chinese designers who better understood Chinese customers’ needs and designed the vehicle based on those needs.
Based on customers' feedback, SAIC Maxus incorporated the driving experience of luxury and sports SUVs to the D90. Apart from features such as diamond-shaped stitching, 21-inch wheels, a 3D dashboard and 12.3-inch screen, the D90 has had its length adjusted from 5.2 meters to 5 meters to make itself more suitable for driving in cities, and also all seats except the driver's seat are now movable –– offering a more flexible interior of the vehicle for passengers.
In addition, the intelligent-connected system jointly developed by SAIC Motor and Alibaba Group enables functions such as auto payments, online music, online navigation, remote control, voice interaction, and interaction with sports cameras, drones and balance bikes.
The vehicle’s distinctiveness also includes the ability to customize almost all key functions and configurations. In the future, it will offer choices of vehicle type, rim, seat layout, exhaust and interior decoration.
“One growing facet of the C2B model is the creation of specialized and customized products. In its early years, SAIC Maxus had to take orders of highly customized vehicles which joint ventures were unwilling to produce. Thus the company has developed a new production model that allows both massive and customized production, and also standardized the procedure for customized production. Now the number of modified vehicle orders occupies over 40 percent of the total, combining more than 20,000 vehicle types,” said Lan.
Based on SAIC Motor’s top information system, SAIC Maxus has made its data regarding products and technologies transparent. The customization, payment, monitor, certificate of origin, and interaction with users can all be completed transparently through the system.
SAIC Motor’s cooperation with Alibaba also brought advanced cloud computing, big data and intelligent-connected technologies to SAIC Maxus, helping it promote the C2B model.
The C2B model enables users to customize their own cars and helps SAIC Maxus understand users’ needs to improve its design and manufacturing process. Moreover, the model improves the influence of Chinese auto brands which will no longer introduce outdated overseas cars or imitate production of overseas vehicle types.
With SAIC Motor’s support, SAIC Maxus has enjoyed rapid growth. SAIC Maxus delivered the V80, a light commercial vehicle and also its first product in 2011, and moved into the top three producers in the light commercial vehicle market. In 2014, SAIC Maxus launched the G10 for the middle and high-end MPV market, which had been long monopolized by international automakers. In the first quarter of this year, the sales volume for the G10 in first-tier cities soared by 88 percent, although with the highest average price among domestic peers.
In 2016, despite the downturn in the domestic light commercial vehicle market, SAIC Maxus bucked the trend, with sales volume of 46,123 units, up 32 percent. Exports exceeded 7,008 units, a year-on-year increase of 47 percent. The strong performance helped the Chinese auto brands keep their position in overseas markets. Its occupancy ratio in Australia is second only to Toyota while it claims 19 percent of the New Zealand market. At present, SAIC Maxus’s products have been exported to 42 countries and regions, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. In 2016, it became the top Chinese auto brand in Australia with the highest sales.
SAIC Maxus is also targeting the recreational vehicle (RV) market by building an ecosystem for its RV business which will integrate intelligence, data and the internet. It plans to expand its RV rental service in 18 cities and become the top RV brand in China.
In terms of new energy and smart-driving technologies, SAIC Maxus has its own technological advantages, with highlights such as the V80, G10 and a soon-to-be-launched new energy vehicle.
The development of SAIC Motor is driving the Chinese auto industry, by breaking a fixed mindset, utilizing the internet and big data, and developing on its own terms.