Fan Bingbing in the Renault garage in Shanghai

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With China’s growth slowing, ruthless competition and virtually no brand recognition, French carmaker Renault is banking on SUVs and X-Men and Transformers actress Fan Bingbing as it confronts an uphill struggle to break into the world’s biggest car market.

Europe’s third largest carmaker acknowledged it was coming late to the party when it opened its first factory in China this week — years after Japanese behemoth Toyota and US giant General Motors.

“It’s a tricky situation for Renault,” Jia Xinguang, chief analyst at China Automotive Industry Consulting, told AFP. “About five or six years ago the Chinese market was very lively but conditions are worse and the competition is cut-throat.

“Another thing is that the Renault brand isn’t well-known.”

Having shifted only 15 000 vehicles in China last year — a tiny fraction of the 24 million that hit the roads — the company knows it has its work cut to become a household name.

“There might be a lack of awareness. The Chinese may have heard people talking about it [Renault], but they don’t know anything about it, there aren’t that many of them on the road and they don’t know anyone in their circle who drives one,” said Jacques Daniel, CEO of its $1.2-billion joint venture with Chinese manufacturer Dongfeng.

Renault’s involvement with Formula 1 races in Shanghai has helped increase brand recognition in China, although pronunciation of the company name in Mandarin is “Lei nuo”.

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