China’s vision of the motoring future

By Liz Dobson


The Beijing motor show is one of the largest and most important for the industry as China continues to be the seen as a saviour for many car companies.

Sales of luxury vehicles continue, though at a slower rate due to increases in petrol prices, with more and more car companies looking to expand their profile in the country.

In the past year, the luxury SUV market has dominated sales in China with Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Maserati, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Mazda and Ford building their SUVs locally.

Last year 1.6 million SUVs were sold in China while the total new car sales for 2011 were 18.5 million.

That was due to government tax breaks (which recently ended), though sales of local-brand small cars and mini vans still make up almost half the vehicles sold. But they're rarely seen in other countries due to their oddball designs and patchy build quality.

That is about to change with more international car companies launching runabouts and commuter cars - Ford announcing this week a major push into the Asian market.

Currently, Ford has just 2 per cent of China's passenger-car market, but is spending NZ$5.9 billion to build eight factories and introduce 15 new models in China by 2015.

Although there has been a dip in sales for the first quarter of this year, Ford should will be ready for the next influx of buyers.

Michael Dunne, president of Hong Kong-based researcher Dunne & Co, told Auto News the slight decline in sales in China is just a blip and that by 2015, it will be a huge consumer of vehicles.

"China and Asia are just getting started," Dunne said. "China is a tale of two markets. Every brand has the challenge of marketing yesterday's cars inland while offering world-class products to the affluent buyers along the east coast."

So among the expensive Bentleys and Range Rovers on display at the fortnight-long Beijing motor show were commuter-favoured cars.

Local vehicle producer Chery showed its Englon SC7, which looked like a cross between a Bentley SUV and a London taxi cab - no coincidence, given Chery has some shares in the London Taxi manufacturers Manganese Bronze Holding PLC.

Chery also had a solution to overcrowded Chinese streets - the @Ant concept car. It could interlink with other @Ants, forming long queues of two seaters.

Another Chinese manufacturer, Great Wall Motors, debuted the Haval E concept car at Beijing. The hybrid hatchback with Lamborghini-style doors, is set to go into production within three years. It will be powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine.

Among the unusual looking concept cars were a few beauties. The MG Icon was awarded the prestigious Best Concept title at Beijing, beating out the Lamborghini Urus, Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe and Honda Concept C for the title.

The MG concept was styled by Brit Tony Williams and his team at parent company's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation's HQ in Shanghai. The Icon features MG styling cues, says Auto Express editor Steve Fowler.

"That include vertical daylight running lights influenced by the MGB, external hinges on the tailgate (to boost rear headroom) similar to those on the MGB GT and an interior inspired by the MG TA.

"The Icon uses the platform from the forthcoming MG3 supermini, while insiders also claimed a roadster version could be on the cards, too," said Fowler.

"Before that happens, though, the Chinese and European public have to react positively to the concept."

The electric sports car, Nissan's Esflow also impressed. The car - which weighs less than 1000kg - is capable of going 0 to 100 km/h in under five seconds and having a range of 240km on a single charge.

The body is similar to the Nissan 370Z and the headlights and tail lights are similar to the Juke's.

- Hamilton News

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