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BAIC for more

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THE RECENT Beijing International Automotive Exhibition (or simply Auto China 2024) was obviously another opportunity for our large neighbor to the north to flex its automotive might.

A dizzying array of product offerings from homegrown brands — some familiar, some not so — joined a smattering of marques from other parts of the world filling the China International Exhibition Center (Tianzhu); so did media practitioners and content creators. It had been four years since the last staging of the biennial show, as the 2022 edition was scuttled due to the pandemic. Auto China was back with a proverbial vengeance.

Themed “New Era, New Cars,” the car exhibition’s thrust might as well be reflective of how BAIC (Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Company, Ltd.) is positioning itself as a come-backing player in the Philippine market. It’s surely a reset of sorts, a crack at a new beginning under the considerable wings of the United Asia Automotive Group, Inc. (UAAGI) distributor.

In April, BAIC Philippines marked its resurrection — most visibly at the Manila International Auto Show — with a considerable five-model opening salvo comprised of the B40 Ragnar, B80 Wagon, and B60 Beaumont (a diesel hybrid) — all body-on-frame, four-wheel-drive, diesel- and gas-powered turbocharged SUVs with engine displacements from 2.0 to 3.0 liters and torque from 380Nm to 420Nm. Add to these the X55 Verve and the X7 Grandeza, gas-sipping (via 1.5-liter turbocharged mills), monocoque-bodied crossovers boasting 305Nm.

“We treat it as another brand which will cater to a different type of market,” said UAAGI Group Managing Director Froilan Dytianquin to this writer. “We want to provide customers with the experience of having BAIC jeeps. I think this will work, as Filipino buyers are accustomed to mid-size SUVs with high ground clearance. The market is really receptive to pickup- or chassis-based vehicles.”

At Auto China, the BAIC booth flexed the brand’s array of SUVs and how these fit active lifestyles. Significantly, the all-new B30, a small crossover, was unveiled. Speaking to “Velocity” at the show, BAIC Philippines Brand Head and General Manager Chris Yu reported that the model is slated for launch here in “late July or early August.” He added, “If you look at the B30, it’s actually a bigger SUV — a very capable one at that — and we’re looking forward to penetrating the Philippine market with this beautiful SUV, which will also come in hybrid variants.”

BAIC Philippines officials are certainly excited about the B30’s arrival, with good reason. The nameplate is projected to be a “mainstream player” that should deliver the numbers. Underscored Mr. Yu, “It should be our best-selling SUV, based on our volume projections, and we will price it very aggressively in our market to make sure we get many of these vehicles on the road.”

Aside from the B30, BAIC unveiled the new B40 and B60 which, added Mr. Yu, “will also be coming to the Philippines very soon.”

The message is very deliberate and calculated. “BAIC is really showcasing its capability and specialty in producing off-road vehicles. That’s shown in the cars here. BAIC will really be pushing off-road vehicles because these are what they’re best at and what they’re known for in China.”

Is there a big-enough market for off-road vehicles in the Philippines — an appetite that can ultimately help drive up volume? “We’re seeing a very steady stream of new interest in SUVs, especially since we’re going to be positioning them very aggressively at a price point that will be accessible to a larger part of the market,” he insisted.

Just beside BAIC’s ORV (off-road vehicle) plant in Beijing is a test track, where the Philippine delegation was given a demonstration of the off-road prowess of the second-generation B40 and the full-size B60 (incidentally, BAIC Philippines changes the prefix of the “BJ” series into simply just “B”). They clambered over steps, waded in water, made steep climbs and descents, and were even coaxed to take to the air by jumping over a section of dirt road.

In the factory, on the other hand, all the off-road offerings of BAIC were lined up to show a breadth of choices — most of which will be made available here. BAIC is also an accredited military vehicle supplier. Founded in 1958, the company — among the country’s largest auto firms — is a state-owned venture.

Here in the Philippines, BAIC continues to lay the groundwork for its growth plans. It recently signed eight major auto groups into its dealership network. Showroom and after-sales operations are slated to begin this month.

The dealer groups are ANGs Automotive Group (Iloilo); Angcore Motor Group (Davao), Autospeedygo Group (Marilao); Automotive Icon, Inc. (Alabang); Autonomics Motor Corp. (Tuguegarao); Laus Auto Group (Pampanga); Magnum Motors Corp. (Cagayan De Oro); and Oro Autoworld (Zamboanga). The dealerships are set to commence sales operations by the month of June.

“We are excited to mark this new growth in UAAGI’s nationwide dealership network and we acknowledge the support of our roster of distinguished BAIC Philippines dealer partners,” said UAAGI Chairman Rommel L. Sytin, in a press statement. “UAAGI and its dealers are positioned to introduce the BAIC brand to the Filipino motoring public with its impressive SUV lineup and advanced technology paired with UAAGI’s brand of specialized customer service.”

Speaking in China, Mr. Dytianquin expressed bullishness for BAIC’s prospects. “We believe it will be a resurfacing of the brand, considering that it has been in the Philippines in the previous years. Given the new models that we have, I think that BAIC will emerge as a new off-road challenger in our market now dominated by Japanese and Korean brands. I think BAIC will really stand out.”

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