Piece by piece, western brands have seen their perceived advantages over Chinese car companies eroded. 

As was evident at the recent Beijing motor show, several Chinese car companies are now there or thereabouts with quality cars with international appeal yet that key issue of the quality and appeal of the brands and branding is very much a live argument.

It’s one thing appealing in your home market, quite another when being exported, particularly when so many brands and models are lumped together as ‘Chinese cars’ no matter what they are (including, I’m sure you’ll have noticed, in this piece already).

While the Chinese are still playing catch up on brands, it’s an advantage western car manufacturers are still keen to exploit and talk up, including BMW Group’s recently-appointed brand and sales boss (and ex-China chief) Jochen Goller, who spoke to me at the recent Beijing show. 

“My focus at the moment is brand because when you go across the main show floor here, there are an extreme amount of models coming to the markets. It’s overwhelming I think personally.

“Brand is an asset. If curated and strong, it's a real differentiator. We obviously have Mini and Rolls-Royce [in addition to BMW], which I would say are the strongest brands in the world.”

Goller said his focus will be making BMW brands and branding as strong as possible, which in the short term is designed to shore up its position in China where it continues to grow in line with the market unlike many other western brands, but inevitably in the longer term when brands like BMW will be in direct competition with Chinese brands closer to home, and will be at a likely price disadvantage.

“You really have to pay respect to be honest with what is happening when you look at the design and quality” of Chinese cars, said Goller. “These are good cars and the learning curve is very steep.”

The reason why there are so many new Chinese brands popping up all the time is because companies need to have “more than one horse in the race”, as one Geely official told me. “There’s a race to be in the group that makes it to the finishing line” after this expansion and boom era settles down. Profits need to be invested into new brands and products constantly in this race to survive and ultimately thrive. 

One of Geely’s new brands is Zeekr, which has been making cars for less than three years but plans to double sales to almost 250,000 units this year on its 2023 performance. Geely design director Stefan Sielaff - formerly of brands including Volkswagen, Audi and Bentley - oversees Zeekr design and described the process of creating a new brand.