Motoring: Luxgen 7

Formed three years ago, Taiwanese car brand Luxgen has tasted success in its own market and is beginning to expand its reach abroad, signing its first overseas distribution deal in Oman with MHD

If we look carefully at almost everything we own, the words 'made in Taiwan' can usually be found discreetly embossed and tucked away somewhere neatly out of sight. Some of the world's foremost computer and IT product manufacturers, smartphone companies and bicycle builders have production units on the small island just an hour's flight away from the Chinese mainland.

Although Taiwan's manufacturing expertise is known the world over chiefly through HTC phones and Acer notebooks, until recently the list of products the country made did not include cars. However, that changed three years ago when Taiwan's first car brand, Luxgen, was launched.

Since then, the high-end brand's Luxgen7 MPV and Luxgen7 SUV have proved to be a hit in their home market and the brand has taken its next step towards worldwide recognition by spreading its wings and searching out foreign markets.

The first foreign market Luxgen landed upon was Oman, signing a deal with MHD in April 2010 following a successful first outing at the Dubai International Motor Show. The market represents what company CEO, KC Hu regards as a focus country and help build brand awareness in the region.

Says Hu, We are very ambitious, but we are still new and small. So when we look for new markets, if they don't have a very strong local automotive industry maybe we will have a better chance to enter the market. At this moment we need to prioritise so that we get greater exposure in markets like Oman."

Hu adds that markets like Japan and China are off the agenda for the immediate future, because their own domestic markets are 'very mature' with global manufacturing giants like Nissan, Toyota, Kia and Hyundai dominating their home markets.

Despite the strong sales in Taiwan and a drive to boost sales across the world, Hu insists that shifting large volumes of vehicles in focus markets like Oman, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam is not a priority. "If you talk about markets, then Europe and North America are the biggest with the electric vehicle as a priority. Russia and Vietnam also have a very big market potential. As for other countries like Oman, Syria and the Marshall Islands, building brand awareness a key priority for me at this time and I do not care too much about the volumes."

A key benefit for Luxgen, according to Hu, is the superior technology in the cars with a range of features not found in other brands. Features such as the Eagle View and side view cameras, which help drivers check their blind spots as they manoeuvre are examples.

Hu states that the brand benefits from the expertise of smartphone makers HTC which, as a shareholder in HAITEC, the company that designs the cars for sister company Luxgen, is involved in every step of the technology development process.

"The good thing about this is that as long as they are your shareholders, they have a full dedication to the business. The computer in the car is a joint design by people from Luxgen, HAITEC and HTC. We worked together to try and create a new definition of the word automobile, where voice recognition and touch screen becomes a key feature."

Technology has taken another leap forward in the company's latest model, the Luxgen5 Sedan, which was launched in Taipei in early December. The first car in the world to use the Android platform, the car's computer syncs up to the driver's smartphone, enabling users to access Facebook, email, maps and everything else that is available on their phone through the car's nine-inch smart touch screen.

The technology displayed in the new Luxgen5 Sedan is taken even further in the company's production electric MPV. Essentially the same car as the Luxgen7 MPV, the electric vehicle, or EV+ as it is known, has a battery fuel cell in place of the petrol engine and is capable of 140km per hour.

With a range of 180km for each charge, a two-and-a-half hour charging time from empty to full and a capacity of 2,000 charges for each cell, the car is already in use in the tea-growing areas of Taiwan to keep the environment pristine but Hu thinks its true potential lies in the urban centres of Europe and North America.

"We are in the process of discussing the electric model with potential partners in Europe and North America. The reason is because in those two continents they care more about environmental protection than other regions and they are much more interested than others in electric vehicles. We have a superior electric vehicle, so we are in discussions to introduce it to Europe and North America first."

The two bases Luxgen has for the development of its models are in its downtown Taipei headquarters and its factory, set among fields and forests on the side of a mountain an hour and a half away in Sanyi. Part of the Yulon Group, which has been making cars and car parts for a variety of other brands since 1953, the plant is capable of producing one Luxgen car every 2.8 minutes.

Despite the technological expertise and manufacturing experience, Hu admits the concept of bringing a new brand into the market and educating customers about its origins - and steering customers away from the mass-market, low-cost image of Chinese brands - is going to be the biggest challenge.

"When people in the Middle East, South East Asia and Russia saw that Luxgen was a Taiwanese brand, they thought that Taiwan is a province of China. I told them we are a different country. We have to find ways to educate people."

Technical data: (Luxgen 7)

Drive train

Engine: 2.2 litre, MEFI turbo engine with 4WD
Capacity: 2,198 cc
Power output: 175bhp @ 5,200rpm
Max torque: 28.0kgm @ 2,500-4,000rpm

Dimensions

Length: 4,800mm
Width: 1,930mm
Height: 1,760mm
Wheelbase: 2,910mm
Weight: 1,915kg

Tyres
235/55 R18

Brakes

Front 18-inch ventilated brake discs, rear 18-inch solid discs, ABS, braking assistance system, electronic brake distribution

Suspension

Front independent McPherson and rear hybrid LB torque suspension

Transmission

Intelligent 5-speed automatic gearbox

Price

RO13,500

Available at Mohsin Haider Darwish 24490714

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Motoring: Luxgen 7
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