Year of the underdog: Geely’s rise from obscurity to the top

Then, two years ago, Geely moved to purchase a 49% stake in Malaysian maker Proton, and a majority 51% in its Lotus subsidiary. The strategic logic behind the Proton move was obvious, giving Geely access to the heavily protected Malaysian market but also extra capacity for right-hand drive production. Lotus seemed like a less obvious target given the brand’s minimal sales, but it soon became clear that – as with Volvo – Geely was planning to give its new subsidiary both investment and a large measure of independence. 

Geely also built an investment in Daimler, ending up with a stake of 9.69% – enough to trigger concern in the German press about what the Chinese company wanted in exchange for its cash. A full-scale technical alliance hasn’t happened – at least, not yet – but in March it was announced that Geely had taken a 50% stake in Smart with plans to produce a new generation of entirely electric models in China. 

The current Geely GE saloon introduced a new radiator design for the brand with a series of concentric rings known as the ‘expanding cosmos’ treatment. Design director Peter Horbury admits it was inspired directly from a conversation with Li himself. Given Geely’s dramatic growth in the two decades since it started making cars, it seems unlikely that Geely’s universe will stop expanding any time soon.

The future

Ambition has been Geely’s defining characteristic since it was founded. Autocar was among a small group of journalists who interviewed Geely Auto CEO (and Geely Group president) An Conghui at this year’s Shanghai motor show, where he made it clear that the company still sees plenty more opportunity for growth. 

“Geely’s ambition is to become a world-class and globally competitive OEM and also OEM group,” he said. “We are doing this from both sides, working on our own and also realising this through collaboration with partners.” 

The official plan is to grow the current brands rather than acquire new ones – “we will work on cultivating our own,” said An – but, based on previous form, we wouldn’t be too surprised to find Geely expanding further if the right offer came along. 

Unsurprisingly, An sees electrification as both a technical challenge and an opportunity. He confirmed that Geometry models will ultimately be offered around the world – “We aimed it to be a global brand offering global products, to private car owners but also mobility providers” – and also that Tesla was both an inspiration and a target. It’s a broad hint that we can expect to see more powerful and expensive Geometry models overlapping with the lower reaches of the Tesla hierarchy. 

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