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China's Qoros uses Slovakia to prepare for a full European roll out

The Qoros 3 compact is the first Chinese-built car to receive a top score of five stars from crash safety rating group EuroNCAP.
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Chinese automaker Qoros is using Slovakia as its first global export market with the goal of rolling out the brand across western Europe within two years. The automaker, a joint venture between China's Chery Automobile and Tel Aviv-based holding company Israel Corp., picked the tiny central European country because it feels it has a strong chance to make a quick impact.

"With just a few hundred sales you can be a significant player in Slovakia," Stefano Villanti, Qoros head of sales, marketing and product strategy told Automotive News Europe at the Geneva auto show last month.

Qoros started selling its 3 compact sedan with a dealer in Bratislava, Slovakia, at the end of 2013 at the same time the carmaker began sales of the car in China. Villanti said the company plans a European roll out in a couple of years but declined to say which markets will be added and when, or which models would be offered.

Qoros showed the 3 compact hatchback, its second model, at the Geneva auto show in March. Villanti said the hatchback would go on sale in China this summer followed by a 3-based station wagon next year. Qoros’s aim is to have its factory in Changshu, China, reach its production capacity of 150,000 units a year by 2016.

5-star safety

The 3 sedan was the first China-built car to receive a top score of five stars from crash test agency EuroNCAP. The car starts at 20,960 euros in Slovakia, where 2013 total industry sales declined 5 percent to 66,000. Skoda dominates the Slovakian market, where the Octavia (4,150 units), Fabia (3,882) and Rapid (2,480) were the top three selling models in 2013. The Hyundai i30 (2,237) rounded out the top four. Every other model had sales of less than 2,000 units, according to figures from JATO Dynamics.

As a start-up, Qoros has had to create all of its divisions from scratch. The 6-year-old automaker has used this as an opportunity to try to change the perception of Chinese automakers.

“What is difficult with a new Chinese brand is to convince customers that we offer high-quality ‘Made-in-China’ products. Customers are more demanding of us than they are with products from joint ventures with foreign automakers,” Villanti said. In response, Qoros has introduced a number of initiatives to try to get car buyers to believe that upscale cars can be manufactured in China by domestic brands. One example is that it is promising customers in Slovakia and China that it will try to solve any technical problem with its cars in less than 24 hours. “We want to command premium prices, that’s why we need international quality standards for our products, as well as for our service,” Villanti said.

Always connected

In China, Qoros also is focused on providing customers with high-end in-car features such as its in-house cloud-based connectivity and infotainment system called QorosQloud. The system is run via an 8-inch touchscreen that allows multi-touch gestures. The always-connected 3 sedan comes standard with built-in, free-of-charge 3G capability in Qoros’s home market.

“The owner can control the position of the car from his computer or tablet. He can chose his destination from home and then find it already set in the car thanks to our cloud,” said Villanti, who declined to reveal when similar features would be offered in Slovakia.

During the interview in Geneva he used his iPad to show where his 3 sedan was parked in Shanghai. The display included his car’s fuel level and the key statistic from the last trip he made. Qoros customers in China also get innovative features such as the ability to book online a free pickup of their vehicles for regular maintenance and the opportunity to follow all of the service operations on their computers or tablets. Said Villanti: “This is a feature modern people accustomed to Amazon simply expect from an innovative automaker.”

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You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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