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With over 860,000 new-energy vehicles (NEVs) sold in the first 10 months of 2018, China is currently on the forefront of electrification.[1] Made in China 2025, China’s strategic plan tracing the energy transition and the internal development into a tech superpower, includes a significant increase of the EV proportion until 2025. The government is generously incentivizing producers and consumers to reach this goal.

Taking a qualitative perspective, how does supply match demand in this highly regulated segment? In this article, we analyze the main players in the industry and shed light on awareness, acceptance and confidence on the side of real-world consumers. The provided data was collected from Chinese social media in 2018 and analysed using Anacode’s text analytics technology.[2,3]

A vivid playing field for automotive producers

Both Chinese and international OEMs are motivated to compete for market share and pioneering technology in the EV race. The following chart shows the frequently mentioned players along with their sentiment:

Frequencies and sentiments of OEMs in e-mobility discussions

As expected for an industry with a strong vision and a favourable funding environment, startups were fast to pick up on the NEV wave. In terms of media attention and awareness, these dynamic lightweights compete on a par with the OEM incumbents:

Frequencies and sentiments of startups in e-mobility discussions

Sophisticated PR strategies, fancy concept cars and huge funding rounds generate a lot of buzz around startups. However, when it comes to actual products on the market, the discussion is dominated by NIO along with a range of OEM-produced models:

Frequencies and sentiments of NEV models

The ambivalent perception of Chinese consumers

Putting aside the famous Chinese entrepreneurial spirit, where are down-to-earth consumers on their journey of acceptance for the new technology and its long-term benefits? Are they willing to serve as test bed for technological experiments, pay higher prices and buy into – even temporary – trade-offs in terms of quality and convenience? And, most important, do they actually have trust or sense another bubble coming? To dig into these topics, we created and mined a comparative dataset of random samples of equal sizes (50k posts) relating to NEVs and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The following chart depicts the general image of NEVs and ICE vehicles:

Comparison of image attributes for NEVs and ICE vehicles

Product quality is the main concern for NEVs, as opposed to ICE vehicles where design is more prominent. In terms of sentiment, NEVs score lower on central aspects such as quality, design and price. These trade-offs can still be acceptable if there is high awareness for the long-term environmental benefits of NEVs. The following charts shows the discussion quantities and sentiments for environmental aspects on the comparative dataset:

Comparison of environment-related discussions for NEVs and ICE vehicles

 

Clearly, environment topics are more relevant to the NEV discussion. The opinions are not always optimistic and, more often than not, critical towards the domestic providers:

你说讽刺不讽刺,宣传“节能”的玩具车,还能呼叫“污染”的燃油车过来给它充电这是传说中的 #蔚来# 产品的移动燃油车充电宝吗? ​

Isn’t it funny that, in order to push their NEV toys, NIO offers a charging service where a non-electric car comes by to charge your “environment-friendly” NEV?

@惊奇大鸟

 

反正我不会买国产新能源汽车,要么丰田混动,要么汽油车。国产上新能源的原因还不是因为攻不破汽油发动机的技术堡垒,没办法无奈之下转型做所谓新能源。目前电池污染的处理根本达不到预计。为了圈钱一窝蜂上去,骗补贴,骗消费者。

I will not buy a domestic NEV. The two options I consider are a Toyota PHEV or a petrol car. Domestic OEMs jumped on the NEV train since they failed to produce high-quality gasoline engines and didn’t really have a choice.  The actual benefits of NEVs for the environment are currently far below expectation. They are just cheating on subsidies and consumers to move the money around.

@毒药Poison-S

Finally, consumer trust is also undermined on the financial level – the topics of excessive subsidies, subsidy fraud and the “burning” of large funding amounts are common topics in the discussions:

大实话!感慨一下,搞发动机变速器搞不出来,想搞电动,结果补贴了这么多钱发现电池、电机和电控顶尖技术都不在国内。

Domestic OEMs are not able to develop high-quality internal combustion engines and transmissions, so they had to switch to electric cars. But after many subsidies, consumers realized that the top technologies for NEV batteries, engines and electronic controls are still not from China.

– @喜欢吉普-男人帮

 

哎,国内没前途,政策跑偏了,补贴了一堆三年后电池没着落的所谓环保的电动车

This country has no future for NEVs. The policy has failed – it has subsidized a bunch of so-called environment-friendly NEVs that will have no market after three years.

@烂木头_Bernese

 

100亿融资还嫌不够,小鹏汽车与蔚来的赌局能赢吗?

10 billion RMB of funding is still not enough for these manufacturers! Can the NEV startup Xpeng win the battle against NIO?

@独角兽早知道

China has set highly ambitious goals for the energy transition and its internal technological development which are highly stimulating for players in the automotive industry. However, to create a sustainable business environment, consumer trust and acceptance have to match up to these ambitions. Once government subsidies decrease and gradually turn into “soft”, non-financial incentives, industry players should be prepared to assume responsibility for product-market fit and convince their customers based on reputation, quality and long-term trust and loyalty.

 

References

[1] CAAM (2018). 2018年10月汽车工业经济运行情况. Retrieved from http://www.caam.org.cn/xiehuidongtai/20181109/1505220056.html

[2] Weibo data 2018 on e-mobility topic. Retrieved from https://www.weibo.com

[3] Anacode GmbH (2018). Anacode MarketMiner: Web-based Text Analytics for International Market Intelligence. Retrieved from http://anacode.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Anacode_Technology_Whitepaper_v1.pdf

As the sharing economy is booming in China, shared mobility services are radically transforming the dynamics of Chinese cities. This means a fundamental shift for automotive players: “owning” a car is no longer considered the ultimate status symbol in China.[1,2] Consumers get more pragmatic, whereas the urban landscape gets more and more congested and difficult to navigate. The Chinese government supports shared mobility solutions as a way to relax congestion and enforce the large-scale use of electric vehicles. Thus, the opportunity for solution providers is large. Traditional car manufacturers are establishing themselves in this new market by initiating new cooperations and product developments that are adjusted to the new sharing reality.

This article outlines the services, players and pain points that are often discussed in the context of shared mobility. The provided data was collected from Chinese social media and analysed using Anacode’s text analytics technology.[3,4]

The Five Types of Shared Mobility

Amount of discussion for the five shared mobility services

The landscape of shared services can be segmented into five types[5], each of them addressing different transportation needs:

Ride sharing mostly targets urban travellers. It is relatively new in China but was quickly picked up by Didi and integrated into their service range, followed by new players such as DiDa pinche. Didi eventually suspended its ride sharing service in August 2018, thus freeing up the space for a range of smaller competitors.

Car rental as the traditional mobility service targets long-distance and cross-city travellers. Car rental does not make the headlines when it comes to cutting-edge technology and giant funding rounds, but it is still the go-to alternative for consumers who seek a safe, time-tested mobility solution.

Bike sharing aims to solve the “last-mile” problem, helping consumers reach the next subway or bus station from their office or home. Bike sharing has seen extensive growth in China for some years. In 2018, however, this segment experienced a slow-down due to an oversupply of bikes and flaws in the payment processes.

Ride hailing targets a similar demographic as ride sharing and is also widely dominated by Didi. Currently, ride hailing is moving its focus towards lower-tier cities. Benefiting from their knowledge of local specifics, a large number of regional players are already active in the market.

Car sharing is similar to car rental, with the main difference being the duration: whereas traditional rental is optimized for intervals of multiple hours or even days, shared cars can be used for minutes. This flexibility makes them a welcome alternative for ad-hoc city travellers.

Newcomers and Traditional Car Manufacturers Need to Work Together

Multiple interest groups come together in the shared mobility market: car manufacturers in general are interested in cooperating with service providers and customising their products for the specific requirements of shared vehicles. Besides, the service-oriented transformation pushes the development of new automotive technology: a large number of shared solutions employ NEV fleets. Recently, with Pony.ai launching its fleet of autonomous cars, autonomous driving also enters the stage. Finally, shared mobility is an integral part of the infrastructure transformation in China and is thus generously subsidized by the Chinese government.

Popular shared mobility brands

OEMs frequently discussed in the shared mobility context

Shared Mobility Services – Far From Perfect

Sentiment about shared mobility solutions is generally positive: consumers love the new flexibility. Still, five pain points recur across social discussions, as illustrated in the following chart:

Five shared mobility pain points and their share-of-voice on the social Web

Cleanliness and vehicle condition in general

有一个朋友来深圳找我,日租了一辆ponycar, 一整天只花了150块!我们跑了一整天也不用充电,玩的很开心。挺好,唯一的一点就是希望车内卫生能够做好!

A friend of mine came to visit me in Shenzhen and I rented the Ponycar for a whole day. It was only 150 yuan! We drove for an entire day without having to recharge the car; we had a really good time! I only wish the car was cleaner!

– @一个傻子东西

Traffic violations

共享汽车都可以乱停车的吗?我的车被堵住了,叫客服快一个小时了,到现在都还没人来挪车?

Shared cars can be parked like this now? My car is blocked. I’ve called the customer service for an hour and no one has come yet to move the car.

– @蔡_三岁

Deposit issues

@一步用车什么情况,退个押金能退俩月?谁能解决我的问题?

What happened @Ibuyongche? Why can I still not withdraw my deposit after two months? Who can solve my problem?

– @WLH_呜啦啦

Charging point availability

好多Evcard的充电桩都有问题导致我没办法充电,真的太不方便了。
So many charging points won’t let me charge the EVCARD car! This is really not convenient!

– @dy_crab

Service location availability

Ponycar开起来还行,就是停车点太少了,取车还车要走好几公里。
Ponycar is easy to drive, but there are too few parking spots. I need to walk several kilometers to pick up and return the car.

– @supertramp

 

The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy

Peer-to-peer lending, shared mobility, home sharing… whatever the application, it seems that Chinese society is quick to establish the collective trust needed to make sharing models work. But the risk of individual abuse persists. In 2018, two passenger murder cases were recorded related to Didi’s ridesharing service. The brand strengthened its security measures and eventually closed down the service. However, a more recent case dates from December, with a driver being killed by his passenger, and clearly demonstrates that the root of the security problem still persists.

 

While the shared mobility space has evolved rapidly over the last years, Chinese consumers are also getting aware of the current drawbacks. They are disillusioned by pain points relating to usability, infrastructure and security, which show that the industry is still in major need of improvement. Going forward, it is important to systematically attack these issues. Multiple interest groups need to come together in laying a solid basis and creating the infrastructure for a safe and seamless user experience.

 

References

[1] Wouter Baan, Paul Gao, Arthur Wang, Daniel Zipser (2017). Savvy and sophisticated: Meet China’s evolving car buyers. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/savvy-and-sophisticated-meet-chinas-evolving-car-buyers

[2] Raymond Tsang, Pierre-Henri Boutot and Dorothy Cai (2018). China’s Mobility Industry Picks Up Speed. Retrieved from https://www.bain.com/insights/chinas-mobility-industry-picks-up-speed/

[3] Weibo data 2018. Retrieved from https://www.weibo.com

[4] Anacode GmbH (2018). Anacode MarketMiner: Web-based Text Analytics for International Market Intelligence. Retrieved from http://anacode.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Anacode_Technology_Whitepaper_v1.pdf

[5] Marco Hecker, Quan Zhou, Zoe Wu (2017). The Future of Shared Mobility in China. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/about-deloitte/dttp/deloitte-cn-dttp-vol7-ch3-future-of-shared-travel-en.pdf

Author: Adrian De Riz

In China, you are what you drive

It is not unusual for Chinese grooms and brides to be chauffeured in a Bentley, Maybach or Rolls Royce, while their entourage follows in a uniform suit of upper-class vehicles. The same holds true for Chinese business executives, who expect and are expected to be driven in higher class cars. In many aspects of Chinese life, the car reflects a person’s “face”. This cultural importance of cars, together with the growth of the Chinese economy, creates a strong demand in the Chinese luxury car market.

The Chinese car market: different and too big to miss

Historically, the Chinese luxury car segment has been served by non-Chinese players from Europe, the US and Japan. Built in and for Western markets, these luxury cars were often not designed with Chinese customers in mind. However, for the past 10 years China has been the biggest car market, and will remain so for at least another decade to come. The Chinese car market has become a crucial battleground that these brands are not willing to give up.

Catering to the needs of Chinese customers means winning the market

For global car brands, product localisation can decide over success or failure in China. Audi serves as a great example for a brand that recognized this opportunity and acted on it. In Europe, the majority of executives drive themselves to work. Therefore, the driving experience behind the wheel often dictates the purchasing decision. Chinese executives, on the other hand, are driven to work by their chauffeurs. Aspects of driving the car are secondary to the perceived comfort in the back of the car. The following chart shows the relevance of various interior components in executive cars and sedans as distilled from discussions in Chinese social media:

The backseat is clearly the most relevant component for executive cars, while front seats are more relevant for sedans. Additionally, maneuvering constraints and parking problems from excessive car length are less of a concern than it would be in Western markets.

Understanding these differences in customer needs, Audi focused its product development on the customer experience in the back of the car. In 2005, it introduced their first products designed exclusively for the Chinese market: the Audi A6L and A8L. The two models explicitly target the Chinese executive segment with enlarged wheelbases of up to 30cm. This additional length is applied in the back of the car, allowing for more leg space and room for movement. Additionally, Audi used the finest materials and accessories, normally found in the front row, and moved them to the back.

The result: a Chinese champion in the executive car segment was born. A6L sales compared to the base model soared by 27% in the first quarter. It took competitors half a decade to close this product development gap. The following chart shows sentiments for A6L seats and overall model perception, compared to sentiments for the competing products by BMW and Mercedes Benz:

A6L manifests the best sentiment both for the back seat and for the overall perception of the product.

In the end, customer centricity wins

By recognizing the cultural context and tailoring their product accordingly, Audi was able to design a car that perfectly addresses the requirements of the Chinese executive car market. This insight of the relative importance of front and back seat made Audi the trendsetter. Listening closely to the needs and wants of the local target group, the brand became the #1 choice among Chinese executives and gained a competitive advantage of several years. 

This report provides a descriptive overview of the Chinese Web 2.0 landscape for automotive feedback, focussing on BMW 7 Series and comparing it with Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The feedback is analysed both from a qualitative and a quantitative perspective. The main observations and findings are as follows:

  • Popular topics and concepts: We find that users are most concerned about the price and optical aspects (design, visual appearance) of the three considered series. Competitor brands that are discussed in a comparative perspective are mostly high-end or consumer-oriented foreign brands from Germany, US and Japan, whereas native Chinese brands are much less frequent. Geographically, users concentrate in the big cities and more affluent regions along the East coast.
  • Temporal evolutions: The quantity of buzz grows relatively evenly for all three series before 2015, with BMW 7 and S-Class leading. In 2015 – 2016, there is a burst in the quantity of data for BMW 7, which correlates with the introduction of the new generation of the series.
  • User satisfaction and sentiment: Users are generally satisfied with the frequently mentioned major product features of BMW 7. There are, however, some categories that are perceived negatively – specifically, components related to the front part of the car, the fuel consumption and aspects related to acoustic quality and insulation.
  • Social influencers: Among the key influencers on WeChat, China’s leading social network, we mostly find media accounts posting on general automotive topics. There are no accounts with a wide social reach that would specialize on the BMW brand. Thus, influencer marketing is an opportunity yet to be explored by BMW’s marketing and branding strategy.

Download the social report.

Connectivity and the “Internet of Vehicles” is one of the main current technological trends in the automotive area. With its rapid digitalization, China is a major “testbed” as well as a source of innovations in this field.

The present report uses data from the Chinese social web to find concepts and topics that dominate the Chinese discussion around connectivity and Internet of Vehicles (IoV; fTQ).

Our key observations are as  follows:

• Whereas connectivity already rose around 2011-12 in OECD markets, its China journey started relatively late (2014). Thus, the current progress and penetration are all the more impressive and uncover an even greater potential for future development backed by numerous supporting measures by the Chinese government.

• Foreign and domestic brands and services are equally present in the data. Foreign brands dominate the car manufacturer area, whereas domestic Chinese brands are more present in the IT context. This balanced mix conveys the strength of local providers as well as the agitated landscape of international deals between car manufacturers and connectivity service providers.

• Major product aspects discussed in the area turn around smart and assisted functionality, safety and advancements in mobile internet technology.

• In a more strategic perspective, autonomous driving and its implications for the overall traffic system seems to be the leading concern. There are also numerous discussions about the underlying  technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Internet of Things.

Download the connectivity report.