General Motors

Cleaner cars take centre stage at fair

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2012, 12:00am

Undeterred by a slowing economy and car sales, the Beijing auto show, which opened yesterday, has drawn more than 2,000 participants, with many of the companies showing new-energy vehicles and SUVs.

Of the 1,125 vehicles featured in the 230,000 square metre exhibition centre in Beijing, 120 were making their global debut. Of those, 88 offered more fuel-efficient alternatives to traditional engines, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

While doubts linger about whether these cars, especially the electric ones, will sell, carmakers continue to launch new models.

Toyota released a China-specific concept hybrid in its bid to expand the portfolio of hybrids in its sales, while BYD unveiled a new technology that turns an electric car into a miniature power generator. BYD also launched an upgraded version of its 2009 best-seller the F3, called the F3 Plus, which can be operated by remote control within 20 metres.

The joint venture between Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC) and General Motors displayed a plug-in hybrid Buick SUV.

GM's chief executive, Dan Akerson, said the company was committed to making 'significant progress' in the new-energy sector by the middle of this decade.

SAIC is selling a 1 per cent stake in the venture to GM, restoring the US company's stake in the venture to 50 per cent.

Ford, however, is more cautious.

'Though it will be an important part of the industry in the future, the technology is not improving quite as fast and pricing is still a challenge,' said Ford's Asia chief Joe Hinrichs. 'We'll be ready to go when there is a sizeable scale.'

Hinrichs also said that Ford, along with Chongqing Changan Automobile and Japan's Mazda Motor, was looking for the right model to develop as a joint-venture brand in China. It is also seeking to expand its product range to entry-level brands, with price tags lower than its Fiesta.

The company is counting on three SUV models - EcoSport, Kuga and Explorer - to be its new growth drivers.

According to industry information providers JD Power and LMC Automotive, sales of SUVs jumped 25 per cent to 2.1 million units last year - five times the growth of general passenger cars on the mainland.

Even luxury-car maker Bentley has not been able to resist the SUV temptation.

Bentley's chairman and chief executive, Wolfgang Durheimer, however, denied its SUV EXP 9F is targeted at specifically the Chinese market, but said China was certainly one of the biggest markets and the company could not afford to be left behind, even if its meant taking a detour from its long history of producing classy coupes.

'To be successful, you have to try new things,' Durheimer said. 'Living in the past won't help us progress.'

The auto show, which takes place in Shanghai every second year, will open to the public tomorrow.