The Zhonghua M1 is a mid-size sedan currently being marketed as an
entry-level luxury automobile. It is manufactured by Shengyang Brilliance
Jinbei Automobile Co. in Shengyang, China, using both domestic and
imported parts. Brilliance is BMW's manufacturing partner. Indeed, BMW
financed the construction of the Shengyang plant, where all 3-series and
5-series automobiles for the Chinese market are built. BMW states that
the quality of its Chinese-built cars equals that of its German offerings.
Although Brilliance has been selling a domestic version of the Zhonghua
sedan to Chinese consumers, the M1 is a more refined variant built to
European quality standards and outfitted with upscale features to meet the
demands of the European marketplace. It is built at the same plant as the
Chinese-made 3-series and 5-series, but on a separate assembly line. The
only stage shared by the M1 and BMW's models is the body painting.
The M1's body shape was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of the renowned
Italian automobile design firm Pininfarina. Noted Giugiaro designs
include the Volkswagen Golf, Lotus Esprit, and Saab 9000. I don't think
the M1 is Giugiaro's best work, although it does trump the appearance
of comparable Korean sedans. I'll let you judge for yourself.
The following is a picture gallery of the Zhonghua M1 from a German auto
magazine. Click on "weiter >>" to go forward and on "<< zurück" to go
back. To my eyes, the M1's hindquarters recall the previous-generation
Honda Accord, while its side profile resembles Giugiaro's original Saab
9000 silhouette. The nose reminds me of recent Pontiac designs. Anyway,
the gallery should speak for itself. Note that pictures 6 and 7 show
not the market-ready M1 but a design study for the next generation of
Auto News: Bildergalerie - Brilliance Zhonghua
Nearly all technical information about the Zhonghua M1 available on the
web is in German, which is not surprising, considering that Brilliance
hopes to commence its European operations with a three-year stint in
Germany. Their importer is Euro Motors, a Gibraltar-based firm that
announced at the German auto shows this spring that it would begin
shipping the car to customers by September. That hasn't come to pass
due to regulatory hurdles, about which more below, but now Brilliance
and Euro Motors say they are aiming for a late-November launch.
The German auto press has already learned many details about the
Zhonghua M1, although no test-drive results have been widely published
yet. According to unconfirmed reports, an auto-magazine editor who
had a chance to compare the M1 with a mid-size Korean entry-level
luxury sedan decided that the Korean car had superior handling and
performance. However, he deemed the Zhonghua's driving dynamics to be
acceptable as well, and found that its feature set was superior to that
of its Korean rival at the same price point.
Standard equipment on every M1 includes air conditioning, power windows,
parking assistance, remote-control locking, auto-dimming rear-view mirror,
and a CD player with eight loudspeakers. A fully outfitted model with
leather upholstery and automatic everything will cost close to 20,000
euros (currently about $23,000) when it finally hits the market.
The car is 4.88 meters (16 feet) long from bumper to bumper, and offers
550 liters (19.4 cubic feet) of trunk capacity. It is available with a
choice of two engines, both powered by four cylinders and both sourced
from Mitsubishi. One engine has a 2.0-liter displacement and puts out
129 horsepower, while the other displaces 2.4 liters for an output of
This is not a fast car. The top speed of the 2.4-liter model is only
195 km/h (121 mph), and it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph)
in a sluggish 12.5 seconds. That's with the standard 5-speed manual
transmission. With the optional 4-speed automatic, performance is even
more dismal. Fuel efficiency is good, however, with each engine consuming
6.5 L/100km (36 mpg) and 7.6 L/100km (31 mpg) respectively. The 74-liter
(19.5-gallon) tank volume therefore ensures a reasonable cruising
range. An even more frugal 1.8-liter engine is in the works.
Safety equipment is ample or skimpy, depending on your perspective. For
a car that costs $23,000, the Zhonghua's safety features are perfectly
adequate. Anti-lock brakes, driver and front-passenger airbags, and
side-collision reinforcement are standard on both variants, while
the 2.4-liter engine gets you traction control and an electronically
controlled locking differential. However, entry-level luxury sedans from
other manufacturers typically offer more safety features, such as side
airbags, rear airbags, and electronic stability programming.
If you can read German, you will be interested in the following articles.
Bild: Der erste China-BMW kommt jetzt nach Europa
Auto News: Brilliance Zhonghua: Chinesischer Preisbrecher für Europa
Focus: Zhonghua M1: Ein 5er-BMW für 20 000 Euro?
All in all, the M1 looks like a tantalizing deal in light of its low
price and BMW connection. But when will it come to market? Although
Brilliance and Euro Motors have sworn up and down that they would have no
trouble meeting European safety and environmental standards, they have
so far failed to procure the necessary certification to sell their cars
in Germany. It is not clear whether the obstacle is one of automotive
engineering or purely a bureaucratic matter. At the spring auto shows,
Euro Motors said it expected to begin selling the M1 in the summer,
then revised its estimate to the early fall, namely September. The
certification has not yet come through. Euro Motors now suggests that
late November is a more realistic date.
Furthermore, there has no been no definitive word on what sales channels
will be used to deliver the vehicles. Plans have included partnering
with other auto manufacturers' dealerships or selling Zhonghua cars
through an existing Germany-wide network of branded auto parts stores
and service stations. Nothing concrete has emerged yet. Industry experts
observe that Euro Motors will have to get its act together soon if it
wishes to fulfill its ambitious plans of recruiting up to a thousand
dealers to sell 5,000 cars in the year 2006 and 20,000 in 2007.
A French car magazine is skeptical of the hype surrounding the putatively
imminent Chinese automobile invasion, estimating that it will take up to
five years before European certification is forthcoming and an adequate
dealership network has been built up. If you like this pessimistic point
of view and understand French, read the following article.
quotidien auto: Voitures chinoises : pourquoi l?invasion n?aura pas lieu
It has been an enjoyable challenge to research this question for you.