Author: Zhang Yi
“Overly dependent on the past thirty years, can Great Wall Motor survive next year?” In the micro-movie celebrating Great Wall Motor’s thirtieth anniversary in 2020, Wei Jianjun, Chairman of Great Wall Motor, asked this soul-searching question.
Now, three years have flown by, and the automotive market continues to deepen its electrification, yet Great Wall Motor is helplessly drifting on the edge of this trend.
By 2022, Euler’s total sales are 104,000 vehicles, a YoY decrease of 22.98%; WEY’s total sales are 36,400 vehicles, a YoY decrease of 19.87%. While new energy vehicles experience a severe drop, the two stone lions guarding Great Wall Motor’s home—SUV and pickup trucks—also signal pessimism.
Haval’s total sales are 616,600 vehicles, a YoY decrease of 19.93%; Great Wall Pickup’s total sales are 188,700 vehicles, a YoY decrease of 19.97%.
Amid all of Great Wall Motor’s brands, only Tank can help Great Wall Motor earn back a little bit of face in sales, with a total sales of 123,900 vehicles and a YoY growth of 46.45%.
Wei Jianjun, who has been in the car-making industry for over thirty years and is known as the “Baoding Car-God,” has now embarrassingly ushered in his “darkest moment” as the electrification trend continuously shatters old industry norms before the younger generation.
Just like what Wei Jianjun said in the micro-movie three years ago, “What will the future be like? In my opinion, our fate hangs by a thread.”
“One incapable general will lead to the death of three armies.”
Wang Fengying, the female leader who worked with Wei Jianjun for thirty years and burned three decades of youth for Great Wall Motor, has finally chosen to split with Wei Jianjun and go to Xiaopeng Motors, becoming the first major event for Great Wall Motor in 2023.
Although this is regrettable, Wei Jianjun may have already written the prelude to Wang Fengying’s departure since 2016 when Great Wall introduced “WEY,” and he began to face the public instead of hiding behind Wang Fengying. Furthermore, as Great Wall Motor began to transition into a technology company in the new energy era, it implemented a rotating CEO system, which made Wang Fengying less essential due to the poor sales of Great Wall Motor’s new energy vehicle models.
Now that Wei Jianjun’s old colleagues have left and he has new ones, how can they remain loyal to him? Great Wall Motor cannot avoid the current anxiety and uncertainly.Actually, it’s not just Wang Fengying and other old veterans who fought with Wei Jianjun for the throne who chose to leave, but also professional managers like Ning Shuyong and Liu Zhifeng who parachuted in and out like revolving doors.
By 2023, Wei brand cars, which had been established for less than 7 years, had already gone through 5 presidents (Yan Si, Liu Yan, Li Ruifeng, Hu Shujie and Li Ruifeng in turn). At the beginning of 2023, Weilai welcomed its 6th CEO – Chen Siying, who also served as the General Manager of Tank brand marketing. Li Ruifeng left Weilai and became the CEO of Haval, which is part of Great Wall Motors.
Ola, founded just in 2018, has gone through four general managers: Ning Shuyong, Yu Fei, Dong Yudong and Wen Fei, who just took the helm this year.
Great Wall Motors, now in the “plum rain season,” has become trapped in a strange circle of frequent roof repairs. Can it still dodge the rain? With ironclad Wei Jianjun and flowing general managers, can the transformation sickness of Great Wall Motors really be cured simply by changing leaders?
At a small media banquet in 2022, Wei Jianjun did not hold back when he attacked Wei Xiaoli, saying, “Neither Li Xiang, a product manager by background, nor Li Bin, a sociology major, understand technology, and He Xiaopeng only understands software. Wei brand cars did not sell well after the transformation, simply because their abilities to grasp marketing concepts were inferior to Wei Xiaoli’s.”
The same expression style can also be learned from Wei brand CEO Li Ruifeng. In July of last year, Li Ruifeng asked about the delivery of the M5 on Weibo, and unleashed several Weibo posts criticizing the lagging extended range technology, saying, “Even if you have a big mouth, you shouldn’t talk nonsense.” He pointed his sword at Yu Chengdong.
It is clear that Wei Jianjun-led Great Wall Motors’ management mistakenly reads the new energy car market and the entire pure electric car market. They may even have insufficient knowledge of it. Furthermore, there is a serious engineering mentality within the company that overly emphasizes the technical advancement and overlooks real user needs, resulting in a management rhythm that is out of sync with the market.
Therefore, frequent changes of leadership will be of no avail and will only repeatedly reproduce the stories of struggles between the emperors and officials of old times, making the chaos worse and worse.To adapt to the new market trends, Wei Jianjun must first re-examine himself.
As we all know, Wei Jianjun is a figure well-known for his “iron-fist rule” in Great Wall Motors. He has the right of veto in the company’s internal decision-making, and every Great Wall Motors product has to go through Wei Jianjun’s inspection before being launched.
Additionally, Great Wall Motors’ approach of militarization and management, full of Wei Jianjun’s personal will, stands out as being incompatible with this era’s pursuit of humanistic management. Under high pressure, the company’s staff must obey and flatter, while Wei Jianjun is no stranger to thigh-hugging and foot-kissing.
With the departure of Wang Fengying, Great Wall entered an era of Wei Jianjun’s “dictatorship”, leading to an unbalanced management style.
In times of urgency, “dictatorship” is undoubtedly conducive to rallying strength to overcome difficulties. However, if the concentrated strength goes in the wrong direction, the next step might be a lost cause.
In the electric vehicle era, Wei Jianjun may need to readjust his management style to bring stability and vitality back to his management team.
From Great Wall’s pickup trucks, to Haval, WEY, ORA, Tank, and Salon, the strategic shift from category to brand is a critical factor in the company’s success over the past thirty years.
Although the changes of the times can sometimes be overwhelming, grasping the user’s cognitive mindset with a category strategy, a unique tactic, can certainly take the market by storm.
The sword of the category strategy remains sharp, but in recent years, Wei Jianjun’s blows have been ineffective. The most evident manifestation of the problem is the confusion that Great Wall’s sub-brands cause in users, resulting in an overall sense of vagueness.
For example, WEY transformed from the VV series to the coffee series, quite out of tune with WEY’s style. WEY’s names have also changed from WEY and WEY-Pi to WEY, with shifting positioning from “China’s first luxury SUV brand” to “the next generation of intelligent vehicles,” and as of 2022, repositioned itself as “0 anxiety smart EV.”
Looking at Haval, the company has launched cars with names like Dagou, Kugou, Shenxiong, Chitu, H6, and M6, and recently released a second-generation Dagou that users jokingly called “Er Gou.”
ORA, on the other hand, had discontinued its Heimao (Black Cat) and Baimao (White Cat) models, and has currently selling models like Haomao, Shandianmao, and Baleimao.
The Great Wall Motors, who have always been very clear about their positioning, should not have made such a mistake in naming. In the eyes of “Electric Power” reporters, perhaps it is because the market has grown larger and Wei Jianjun’s appetite has also grown.
Following the successful launch of the Haval series, the establishment of the “WEY” brand was a natural progression towards the high-end market. In the first few years, the development of “WEY” was indeed worthy of Wei Jianjun’s reputation.
Later, the popular naming of the Haval series pushed the Great Wall Motors to another peak, and the company tasted the sweet fruit of the “Dog” series. From then on, it let loose and the Koolpo and Red Rabbit series appeared successively. Recently it was reported that the Haval Dog series may become an independent brand.
Ora’s expansion was even more obvious. At first, Ora was just a brand of micro-cars priced under 100,000 RMB. Later, it evolved into a “car brand that loves women more” with prices doubled to the 200,000 RMB range.
Although Ora was unable to establish a foothold in the “world of women” with the launch of the Lightning Cat, it did not affect its continued targeting of male consumers.
As a leading enterprise in China’s automobile market, it is natural for the Great Wall to expand its appetite. However, in recent years, Wei Jianjun’s transition to new energy has not matched the company’s ambition.
The Great Wall’s current representatives in the high-end hybrid and pure electric markets are the Wei brand and the Ora brand respectively. As for the failure of the Wei brand, Wei Jianjun and Li Ruifeng attributed it to the company’s poor marketing strategies. However, judging from the success of Haval’s naming strategy and the initial positioning of Ora as a “brand that loves women more”, the company is entirely capable of managing its marketing strategies.
But this kind of marketing strategy failed for the Wei brand, firstly because of the confusion in positioning and naming, and secondly, the high fuel consumption and oil-burning issues faced by the brand, which received criticism from many consumers.
Can the accumulated marketing skills be put to work successfully for the Wei brand? Will fixing the deficiencies in marketing allow the brand to once again reach the top? Or is this the result of the company’s strategy or personal shortcomings?From “More Love Brands for Women” to the “Cat Series”, sticking to the core of “women”, Haval has indeed done a lot of marketing. However, the resulting quality scandals have repeatedly emerged, and the product power cannot support the brand power. Desiring to compete with Mini, but ultimately ending in failure.
So to simply attribute the reason for failure to marketing is a simplistic way of thinking that treats the symptoms but not the root cause. Once a problem erupts, it is often due to a whole host of reasons.
Whether Great Wall Motors should start from Haval’s masculine temperament, Euler’s feminine temperament, Salon’s niche personality, or “I want them all”, Wei Jianjun may need to make a careful decision.
In the view of the “Electric Pulse” reporter, after more than 30 years in the car-making industry, Wei Jianjun should be mature in many aspects such as technology, marketing, and management, and should not have problems in these areas.
However, it is going downhill now but still insist on marketing. This is not the behavior that an enterprise that has developed for more than 30 years and Wei Jianjun, who has more than 30 years of car-making experience, should have.
Great Wall Motors’ marketing strategy in the new energy era certainly needs to be pondered. However, how to combine all the forces to make a “great product” is the only way for Great Wall Motors to live up to the 30 years of wind and rain.
Great Wall Motors has been in the Chinese auto industry for 30 years, which is also the 30 years of rising of the Chinese auto industry.
From an unknown small car factory to surviving in the era of domination of joint ventures, to becoming a leading figure in the Chinese auto industry, Great Wall Motors has grown with the Chinese auto industry. A large part of Great Wall Motors’ success comes from the dividends of the times.
However, as the Chinese auto market shifts from increment to stock, and from fuel to electric, the dividends of the times are disappearing, and the competition of the times is intensifying.
“Can Great Wall Motors make it through next year?” What answer will Wei Jianjun give?
This article is a translation by ChatGPT of a Chinese report from 42HOW. If you have any questions about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.