Porsche debuted the revamped Panamera coupe at the Shanghai Auto Show where it sought to outshine Maserati's all-new Ghibli to win over China's growing ranks of luxury-car buyers.
BMW's X4 coupe-like sport utility vehicle, Mercedes-Benz's GLA compact SUV and a sedan version of the Audi A3 hatchback also celebrated world premieres at China's biggest car show of 2013. The unprecedented high-end car push underscores the country's emergence as the segment's key market for expansion.
"There's still a lot of growth potential in China," Rupert Stadler, chief executive officer of Volkswagen's Audi, the best-selling luxury brand in the country, said.
"The premium segment accounts for about 9 per cent of the total market and that share could grow to between 12 per cent and 15 per cent."
With Europe's car market sliding to a 20-year low on weakening demand in Germany, the region's luxury carmakers are focusing on China's wealthy, prompting a shift to SUVs and sedans, which are more popular there than European hatchbacks and wagons.
McKinsey forecasts sales of upscale vehicles in China to average 12 per cent growth a year through 2020, outpacing the 8 per cent rate for the country's total car market. That growth would put sales of high-end vehicles in China ahead of the US by 2016 and on par with demand for all of Western Europe by the end of the decade, the consultancy said.
To tap this growth, Porsche will offer an extended version of the Panamera four-door coupe, which is 15cm longer than the standard model. The variant is geared chiefly at the Chinese market, where many luxury car buyers have drivers, making rear legroom a key factor.
The second generation of the Panamera will go on sale in July and marks the introduction of a new V6 biturbo engine, which will replace a larger V8 as manufacturers look to improve efficiency. The engine boosts fuel economy as much as 18 per cent and adds 20 horsepower.
"We remain carefully optimistic," Porsche sales chief Bernhard Maier said.
With the new Panamera and overhauled 911 sports car, Porsche's "better prepared than ever before" to cope with market swings.
Fiat's elite Maserati brand is shifting downmarket with the new Ghibli. Its first midsized sedan, which is equipped with an engine with at least 330 horsepower, will vie with top-end versions of the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series.
The new entry-level Maserati, which can accelerate to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, is key to Fiat's plan to stem losses in Europe, amounting to more than 700 million last year.
Fiat chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne is targeting an eightfold increase in Maserati sales to 50,000 cars in 2015 from about 6000 last year. The Turin-based company's European turnaround plan calls for exporting 16 new, Italian-made upscale cars worldwide, including an Alfa Romeo SUV, a small Jeep and six Maserati models.
The Ghibli, which is due to start at more than 50,000 ($77,000) , will be built at the Grugliasco facility in Turin alongside the Quattroporte, Maserati's flagship.
"It's sad to say, but the world turned upside down," Maserati chief Harald Wester said. He expects sales to surge to 20,000 vehicles this year, with half of that volume coming from the Ghibli.