Shanghai Auto show draws the automotive world to China’s motoring advances
Volkswagen Audi Group shows strength as Mercedes-Benz reveals latest S-Class, while Geely, BYD and Great Wall take the centre stage
The 17th biennial Shanghai Auto Show opened on Wednesday and runs until April 28. In the city’s clover-leafed National Exhibition and Convention Centre, car manufacturers are feeling pretty lucky with 113 world premieres on display. Visitors are not quite so fortunate, thanks to the event’s confusing layout and poor signage.
Volkswagen Audi Group has the strongest showing among the international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and also reflects the show’s overriding themes: electric vehicles and sport utility vehicles (SUV). Skoda and Volkswagen are showcasing new electric SUV concepts. Vision E is the first fully electric and autonomously driving concept car from the Czech brand, while VW adds an SUV to its ID family of electric concepts. The Audi E-Tron Sportback, on the other hand, is more of a crossover. Closer to production-ready sales are promised for 2019 with a claimed range of about 500km.
The rest of the action from multinational OEMs is largely tied around new China-only models, or new variants of existing models or facelifts. Mercedes-Benz’s Concept A Sedan could preview a China-only saloon version of the A-Class to go head-to-head with the BMW 1-Series saloon – which is also only on sale in China.
Mercedes-Benz chose Shanghai to debut the facelifted S-Class which, along with the to be expected cosmetic changes inside and out, also introduces boosted autonomous driving capabilities with its Intelligent Drive, and new engines.
Citroen debuts the C5 Aircross but currently only for the Chinese market, although the PSA Group does say it may later go on sale elsewhere.
Ford chose Shanghai to launch the facelifted Mustang. Perhaps a surprising choice for the American icon, but it is China’s best-selling sports coupe. Also debuting on show is the Energi PHEV version of the Fusion. With China being the world’s largest market for plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, a PHEV version of the Mondeo should follow for the local market.
Hidden away by BMW, the M4 CS sees performance of the standard M4 upped in a still-road-legal car. Not surprisingly for a country where comfort trumps performance, the new stretched 5-Series for China has been getting all the attention. A BMW i8 is striking enough, but a yellow example as in the debuted Protonic Frozen Yellow Edition gathers an even bigger crowd.
Unusually for a Chinese show, Hall 8, where most of the luxury brands are, is receiving fewer visitors than normal. The VLF F1 V10 Roadster designed by Henrik Fisker has hardly roused a glance since its unveiling at the show – and it has been a similar story with a special-edition McLaren 570GT for the Chinese market.
The show really belongs to the local producers, however. As usual, SAIC has taken up all of Hall 1 with its own brands and joint ventures. However, it seems a case of more show than substance. Last year, SAIC’s brands Roewe, MG and Maxus unveiled a slew of new designs, leading one to expect great things for when they were back on home turf in Shanghai. While the Roewe Vision E electric SUV concept and MG E-motion sports coupe concept are both beautiful designs, they do not signal production cars and are at best an indication of future design language. It has been left to Maxus to provide anything in the way of a new production car, with the D90, an impressive-looking large SUV. It also remains to be seen why SAIC needs Maxus to also produce passenger cars when it is unable to differentiate between car offerings from its existing Roewe and MG brands.
Changan takes the prize for the most outlandish concept with the monstrous Yuyue SUV, which makes Chevrolet’s FNR-X seem positively boring. As in previous years, there are a lot of what China calls new energy vehicles (NEV). These are often from new start-ups with designs that look more like concepts than production-ready or sensible cars.
The Iconiq 7, for example, is a futuristic-looking MPV. Singulato, which sounds more suitable for the name of an Italian ice cream, claims its iS6 will go into production next year. Lacking a production licence it intends to cooperate with an undisclosed producer.
Nio has fronted its stand with the supercar-looking EP9, but has also unveiled a more modest ES8 “production” SUV. Looking like a futuristic electric incarnation of a 1990s Ssangyong Musso, it is expected to be produced from next year.
Like Nio, Yudo also has a production licence but has a far more sensible-looking mass-market SUV. The first, the π1, is set for sales later this year with a choice of 200km or 330km ranges.
This year sees more variety than usual in body styles, with estate cars and multi-purpose vehicles registering among a number of producers. The show, however, appears to be dominated by three Chinese producers that seem to be increasingly confident at the expense of the large state-owned enterprises.
BYD has been China’s NEV market leader for some time, but has traditionally been challenged in vehicle design. Wolfgang Egger, formerly with Audi, now heads up its design and the boost is obvious with the new Dynasty concept SUV and M5 Song MPV on show. Geely also displayed a near-production-ready concept that incorporates the marque’s design DNA first seen on the GC9, going to prove an MPV can be more than just boxy.
Geely also stole a march on the show on Sunday by unveiling the production-ready 01 from its LYNK & CO brand, plus the 03 Concept. It plans to be disruptive and offers a lifetime warranty and free connectivity on all its cars. Great Wall’s Wey brand also seems poised for a move upmarket. The problem lies with the Haval stand, which on Wednesday only had the new H6 on display. It looks a doppelganger of the Wey VV5 – not what you want when you are trying to establish a separate premium brand.
Visitors might prepare for a lot of legwork, for there are about 1,400 vehicles on display.