Saab in Hongkong – Success in motor sport the reason for good start

In the British crown colony Hong Kong, that has the most cars per road mile in the world, the Saab car has made a good start, since the sales work started a year ago. In this article, editor Lennart Cederup, previous Vips reporter from Saab foreign markets tell us the whole story.

The hills on the Hong Kong side are very steep – up to 40 degrees – but the Saab handles it just fine

After sale successes in Singapore, Malaya and Thailand, Saab has found its way even farther east, to Hong Kong. About one year ago, negotiations between Saab in Linköping and China International Motors Ltd began. Last spring the president of the Hong Kong company, Mr Edward Eu, visited Saab in Linköping, the contract was signed, and the 15th of August, the showroom on Kowloon side opened and Saab was introduced on yet another Asian market.

China International Motors Ltd is controlled by distinguished chinese businessmen in Hong Kong, while the CEO is the popular Geoffrey Bonstead. China International Motors is also a dealer for Vauxhall, Buick, Daimler och GMs Canadian built Arcadia. Saabs company in Hong Kong, Continental Motors Ltd, has however, got it’s own showroom on Kowloon side (the British crown colony Hong Kong consists of the Hong Kong island, where most foreigners live, Kowloon and New Territories, nearest the Chinese mainland, rented from China by Britain for 99 years).

The view from the top of the Hong Kong island over the port is very beautiful.

The Saab showroom is in the Imperial Court building at 79 Waterloo Road, a 15 min taxi ride from the ferry terminal and the boss James Wong naturally hopes that the modern battle at Waterloo will be as successful for Saab as for general Wellington who defeated Napoleon in 1815.

The view thru the window with Continental Motors written over it is very attractive with creme coloured mosaic floor and mirror walls making the rows of Saabs almost endless.

We’ve had a good start James Wong says and we’re selling about 15 Saabs a month. I may not seem like much with Hong Kongs population of more than 3 million people in mind, but selling cars in Hong Kong is truly not an easy task, and besides, only small fraction of the 3 million can afford a car. Since Hong Kong, in contrast to other countries in Asia, allows free import of cars, 57 car brands are competing about the market. The non British cars are subject to the so called preference tax of 15% and on top of that there is a 10% registration fee, that came about to force car prices up as an action to keep the number of cars in the colony within reasonable numbers. The car tax per year is HK $ 160 (ca 90 SEK) for cars in the 1000–1500 cc range and HK $220 for cars with engines over 1500 cc.

The Sales Manager for Saab in Hong Kong, Mr James Wong and his cute secretary.

Saab famous thru its many victories in international competitions
Despite the hard competition we have sold the cars we import from Sweden without difficulties, says James Wong. Saab many victories in international competitions has made the brand famous in Hong Kong and its success has been recognised both in the English (3 papers) press in Hong Kong as well as on the radio (2 stations) and in motor chronicles. We also use the success in competitions in our marketing.

I do believe that car customers, especially in Hong Kong, is influenced a lot by the results from the competitions, James Wong says. Our little crown colony happens to be very interested in motor sport and our automobile club organizes all kinds of competitions, that is held in the narrow alleys and up the steep hills (at some places a 40 degree climb), family competitions, navigation competitions and so on. As soon as a competition is held the newspapers mobilise with all they got in reporters and photografers. Because of that it comes rather natural that both the 20,000 westerners and the news reading chinese in Hong Kong knows very well what brands are doing best.

Our customers requires good service and we have a workshop with Saab parts at China International Motors office on the Hong Kong island and a workshop at Waterloo Road.

A Chinese woman admires a Saab in the showroom in Kowloon

Saabs twostroke engine and the two doors gives us no problems in our sales argument says James Wong. When we tell people that the petrol and oil is mixing automatically they are happy, and two or four doors seems like it ’s just a matter of habit.

White is more popular than red when it comes to body colour. Black we don’t even stock since the climate in Hong Kong is too hot for that colour. We’re pleased to be able to tell VIPS readers that we until this day havn’t had a single complaint James Wong says. The Saab runs perfect and handles the steep hills of Hong Kong with ease and the high relative humidity of summer doesn’t affect the performance at all.

If Hong Kong is unique from a competition point of view, Hong Kong also stands out as having more cars per miles of road than any other country in the world.

According to official numbers 60,299 rolling vehicles (818 rickshaws) had to co-exist on Hong Kongs 510 miles of road, that makes more than 100 vehicles per mile. By comparison Britain has 30 vehicles per mile, West Germany 22, USA 20 and France 12.

The congestion is huge on Hong Kongs most famous streets, Queens Road, Pedder Street, and Des VOEUX Road on Hong Kong side and Kowloons long Nathan Road, Salisbury Road, with Hong Kongs most famous Hotel Peninsula, and Chatham Road with the british traffic culture doesn’t deny itself in Hong Kong. Traffic is despite this running surprisingly well.

Most streets are one way and the Chinese police in boxes with pagoda roofs is directing traffic in best bobby style. After a few months in Tokyos horror traffic with cars cruising between lanes in no order at all, you expect the same misery in Hong Kong, with motorists showing no respect for other cars. But the Hong Kong driver sits still and stays in his lane, he doesn’t even throw himself over the horn, but settles with a few small honks. With the risk of being met with protests from many Westerners in Hong Kong, I would say that motorists (even the western) drive with respect.

Parking problems without meter maids
Oh yes, you do come across parking problems in Hong Kong. I the central parts of Kowloon and Hong Kong island it is both parking- and stop restrictions and parking meters are becoming more common where parking used to be free. The special parking lots isn’t nearly enough, despite the charge is 50 cents (ca 0.45 SEK) for two hours and 2 HKD (1.80 SEK) for a full working day. Due to a delay of a building with 2-3 years, motorists have got a lot of free parking places as an extra Christmas present, otherwise they try to find a space in a two storey car park at the Hong Kong ferry terminal. What Hong Kong doesn’t have however, is meter maids.

–If we only had them, the Swedes sigh, -then at least some pleasure could be associated with a fine for wrongful parking.

Despite the congestion in the streets and the competition between brands the dealers in Hong Kong is positive. They know, that the Chinese, like all other nations, aspires to climb the social ladder and that a car is a goal along that route. China International Motors Ltd is expecting Saab, whose size suits Hong Kong perfectly, to be the most popular brand here.