A Glimpse at Vehicle Customization in China

SEMA News—January 2017


By Alysha Webb

A Glimpse at Vehicle Customization in China

  Vehicle Customization in China
As China’s middle class grows, the Wrangler is a top choice for modification and off-roading. (Photo courtesy JeepV)

Qian Guohui bought his first Jeep—a Compass—in 2010. The model choice was dictated by his wife’s tastes. But Guohui hankered after a tougher-looking Jeep, and he wanted to go off-road. In 2014, with his wife’s blessing, he bought a Jeep Wrangler.

“I really am a devoted Jeep fan,” Guo-hui said.

As China’s middle class grows, so does the market for vehicles that can be used for fun rather than just transportation. Those vehicles allow the owners to show off their personal style, and they are creating a growing market in China for accessories that boost performance and enhance the appearance of the vehicles.

“The market for aftermarket accessories in China is very large,” said Guohui. “And American-brand accessories are very attractive [to Chinese consumers].”

As a 37-year-old industrial designer living in Shanghai, Guohui represents this growing customization trend. His Jeep Wrangler has four IPF off-road headlamps from Quadratec and an ARB rear bumper. He replaced the factory tires with four Cooper 285 tires.

“I think big tires look more spirited,” Guohui said. “And they are safer.”

He also bought four aluminum tire spacers for protection.

Guohui hasn’t started customizing the interior yet, but he said that the rear seats in the Wrangler are uncomfortable, so he will make some changes there. The interior is also quite loud, so he will add some noise-dampening equipment.

Jeep has dealerships in China, but Guohui didn’t buy any of his accessories at a dealership. Prices can be 30%–50% higher at dealerships, he said, so he ordered the IPF headlamps from Japan and the ARB bumper from a local retailer of overseas specialty parts. The tires came from Taobao, China’s largest online shopping platform.

Vehicle Customization in China
Imported from the United States, the Wrangler is one of the most customized vehicles in China. (Photo courtesy JeepV)

Dealerships are anxious to sell aftermarket parts, but they were forced by automakers to buy high-priced manufacturer-brand parts until a few years ago. China’s central government put a stop to that practice. Now dealerships are starting to sell more aftermarket parts. They like products such as lubricants and filters, said Gao Ran, chief marketing officer for Winpal, an online business-to-business platform focused on selling American-brand aftermarket parts to dealerships.

“It is a big market,” Gao said. “Nearly 100% of owners want to modify their cars.”

The Wrangler, which is available only as an import, is one of the most customized vehicles in China. There are numerous Wrangler owner clubs (Guohui belongs to one), but FCA also imports the Jeep Compass, the Grand Cherokee and the Patriot.

Jeep currently produces the Cherokee and Renegade in China. In November, Jeep will launch the first domestically produced Compass, and it will begin producing two models, the K8 and K8 PHEV, made only in China in 2018, said an FCA executive. The K8 and K8 PHEV are longer versions of the Cherokee and are aimed at competing with the popular Toyota Highlander. The K8 will carry a 2.0L turbocharged engine mated to a nine-speed transmission.

As Jeep has added more models at its plants in China, its sales have surged. In the first nine months of 2016, Jeep sold 118,205 units in China, up 93% over the same period in 2015, according to LMC Automotive. The most popular model was the domestically produced Cherokee, with 77,370 units sold in the first nine months of the year. The rising star is the domestically produced subcompact Jeep Renegade. Production began in China in mid-April, and sales started in May. Some 12,899 units were sold through September.

Pony Cars in China

The Ford Mustang is another popular model for customization. Though it was only officially introduced to the China market in January of 2015, Mustang sales were up 38% in the first nine months of 2016, according to Ford Motor Company.

Ford dealerships in China sell Roush products, said a Ford China spokesperson. Popular aftermarket products include Injen and Roush air-intake systems, Borla, Injen Technology and Roush exhaust systems, and SCT ECUs, said Aki Von, who owns a Mustang customization shop in Shanghai.

Aki owns a ’70 Mustang, but he can’t drive it on the road because classic cars are not legal. For everyday driving, he owns a ’14 Mustang.

Indeed, the main barrier to a truly booming market in China for aftermarket parts that boost appearance and performance is legality, said Wrangler owner Guohui. The laws pertaining to modification are not very clear and, in fact, are quite contradictory. But that is common in newly emerging markets. Still, the demand is there, and plenty of customizations going on.

Want to know what makes/models are sold in China? Vehicle sales data for China and other key global markets are available at www.sema.org/international.

Want to explore this market of 1.4 billion consumers? Join a subsidized trip with SEMA in September to explore the market firsthand and exhibit at the largest vehicle customization show in China. For more information, visit www.sema.org/china, or contact Linda Spencer, SEMA’s senior director for international and government affairs, at lindas@sema.org.

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