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Shanghai auto show reaffirms design, electric vehicle trends, reminds Hongkongers of what they are missing

China’s automotive showcase highlights design trends, the changing face of motoring, and limited car choice in Hong Kong showrooms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 5:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 9:20pm

Shanghai Auto 2017 closed today and left five impressions in Hong Kong.

First, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class looked the Best of Show. The marque highlighted four models it says were developed with “China in mind”: two six-cylinder diesels and two petrol variants: the Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC (fuel consumption combined: 8.5 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 195g/km) and the Mercedes-Maybach S 560 4MATIC (9.3 l/100 km; 209g/km). The latter’s 469hp V8 achieves 700Nm of torque for “about 10 per cent less fuel” than its predecessor. It also deactivates four cylinders to save fuel, but town-bound Hongkongers might wait for the marque’s new inline-six-cylinder petrol engine and a hybrid option promising an electric range of 50km. Mercedes-Benz has also upgraded the S-Class’ Intelligent Drive with DISTRONIC Active Proximity Control and Active Steer Assist, which is said to adjust speed ahead of curves or junctions.

Second, Mercedes-Benz might have also reset two car design trends. The latest S-Class’ grilles denote owners’ rank distinctly, and other marques might escalate the trend. The grilles of the S-Class range’s six- and eight-cylinder versions “sport three twin louvres as well as vertical strips with a high-gloss black finish”, the marque says. Long-wheelbase and V-12 engine versions are “fitted with additional chrome-finish vertical strips in the radiator grille”; Mercedes-Maybach versions have more chrome and a marque logo between the louvres, it adds.

The marque’s Concept A Sedan also returns compacts to rounded bodywork. “The time of creases is over”, says Gorden Wagener, Daimler’s chief design officer. It is a significant design development as the marque has sold two million compacts since 2012 (compared with 300,000 S-Classes since 2013). The 4.57m Concept A Sedan also “expresses self-confidence” with deep, assertive “eyebrowed” headlights and 20-inch wheels. So bonnets and wheel arches could bulge more across the industry, this year, and the curvy BMW Z3 and early Mazda MX-5s seem back in fashion.

Third, the Hong Kong government’s first registration tax waiver cap on electric vehicles might not last.

Lots of marques are making electric vehicles now, and each new unveiling highlights Hong Kong’s increased taxation of them since April 1. Last month’s Geneva motor show introduced many new electric vehicles: Renault’s TreZor and E-SPORT Zoe; the Bentley EXP 12 Speed 6e convertible, Toyota’s I-Tril and the delightful VW’s Sedric, the first self-driving concept. The Sedric needs a smilier face, but this little, boxy Volkswagen could be a history maker in urban mobility, as it is expected to star in the marque’s smart city collaboration with Shanghai’s Tongji University, in Eastern China and the Yangtze River Delta.

Electric vehicles were also boosted on April 12, when the BMW i3 (94 Ah) electric vehicle was named 2017 World Urban Car in New York, but within a fortnight of its Hong Kong price being tax-hiked from HK$451,000 to HK$677,000. Plug-ins also proliferated in Shanghai, this month, with the Audi E-tron Sportback, Citroen C5 Aircross, Skoda Vision E and Volkswagen I.D Crozz. Such electric vehicles seem unaffordable under Hong Kong’s new taxes, but trade website Automotive News China offers local plug-in fans hope. On April 18 it reported mainland sales of electric vehicles and hybrids in China “rose for the second consecutive month in March after the central government resumed electric-vehicle subsidies”. Maybe Hong Kong can review its electric vehicle tax, too.

Fourth, dashboards are adapting to car sharing. Lynk & Co’s 03 Concept promises permanent connections to the internet and the car’s own cloud as part of the Geely unit’s plans for “a new business model to the automotive sector as a mobility service provider”. The car offers “an open application programming interface” and “unrivalled connectivity with vehicle sharing at its heart”, the marque says. Volkswagen also announced two car-sharing alliances at Shanghai Auto: a car-sharing business with Beijing car rental company Shouqi; and a ride-hailing service with transport service provider Didi. Mercedes-Benz also extended its Croove car-sharing platform from Munich to Berlin, this month. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s car-sharing scene seems in its infancy. There’s Chinese-language, which offers a Mazda compact and more at HK$380 and up, while Audi Hong Kong’s “Audi at home” last year pioneered marque-property development tie-ins with Kerry Properties at Dragons Range, in Kau To Shan, outside Sha Tin. Shanghai Auto’s latest car-sharing technology and alliances might stir this sector, however.

Finally, Shanghai Auto also reminds Hong Kong motorists what they are missing. The MG E-motion electric vehicle was probably one of the most attractive cars in Shanghai, with flashy doors, London Eye-inspired headlights and a promised range of 500km. Skoda’s Vision E was also one of the show’s most intelligent exhibits, with a 225kW motor for an all-wheel-drive range of up to 500km, and a top speed of 180km/h. Its cabin is an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot with many driver-assistance systems, with gesture and voice control; eye tracking, fatigue alert and even a heart rate monitor. The Vision E can also be charged inductively, Skoda says, via a floor pad under the front axle to 80 per cent of battery capacity “in only 30 minutes”. The Vision E sounds ideal for Hong Kong, but like the MG, the Czech marque is not sold here. Worse, most of Shanghai Auto’s Chinese cars lack Hong Kong showrooms, almost 20 years after the handover. As a result, Hongkongers invest in Geely Automobile Holdings, Great Wall Motor, Dongfeng Motor Group, BYD and Brilliance China Automotive Holdings, but these marques’ nearest showrooms are largely over the border. Shanghai Auto makes Hong Kong’s car world seem very small.