Standout vehicles from the Guangzhou Auto Show

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 2:41pm

The Guangzhou Auto Show winds up this weekend, and judging by the number of important models debuted over the past week, the southern Chinese city seems to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity among carmakers.

About 1,130 vehicles were on display at the same sprawling complex used for the Canton Trade Fair, including 56 global premieres, and simultaneous electric vehicle and commercial vehicle exhibitions.

One has to wonder what SAIC Motor Corporation has in store on home turf in Shanghai next April. The group got off to a strong start in Beijing earlier this year by unveiling the Roewe RX5, billed as the first “internet car”, with a telematics system developed with Alibaba. Building on this, SAIC made three debuts in Guangzhou.

First was the MG ZS, a small Ford Ecosport-sized SUV that ushers in a new look for the brand, with a large grille and more British style than earlier offerings under Chinese ownership. Then there was the Roewe i6, which replaces the 550. Back in 2008, it was probably the best ever car to be made by a Chinese manufacturer, but is now showing its age. The i6 is likely to spawn a replacement for the MG 6, which may possibly be called the ZT.

Rounding out the trio was the Maxus T60 pickup truck. Sporting a 2.8 litre turbo diesel, this vehicle seems well suited for export markets, and in China prices start at a bargain 99,800 yuan.

All three models have telematics largely based on the YunOS system first seen in the RX5.

Israeli funded joint venture Qoros has been a serial underperformer in China, but three important cars building on models teased in Beijing show it may yet turn the corner.

Firstly there’s the Qoros GT, a crossover version of the venture’s saloon – certainly unusual but in the vein of Volvo’s S60 crossover. This will likely help spur some immediate sales, which should be further boosted by the Q.Lectriq, an electric version capable of a highly competitive 350 kilometre range. That’s enough to make it a hit with fleet operators.

With all the talk of new energy vehicles in China, it’s easy to write-off the petrol engine as dead. But another model shows that news of its demise may well be premature. Qoros has three revolutionary Qamfree pre-prototypes under testing. They use a “pneumatic-hydraulic-electric-actuator” to replace the camshaft, allowing far more precise control of the intake and exhaust of each cylinder. Lab tests show both increased power and decreased fuel consumption.

The biggest surprise of the show came from Great Wall Motors, and the unveiling of its new Wey brand. Speculation differs as to the origin of the name. Depending on sources, it is either named after one of China’s two Wei dynasties, or the founder of Great Wall, Wei Jianjun. The company aims to create an upmarket brand, and displayed two near production ready concept SUVs – the W01 and W02. The former features a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) – a first for Great Wall.

The problem, though, was at the stand of another Great Wall brand, Haval, which launched the H2S. Its Haval’s first SUV dreamed up by former BMW designer Pierre Leclerq, but the Wey models also designed by him look too similar, and there is potentially not enough to differentiate the brands.

BMW launched the new 1 Series saloon. It is the first time a German premium brand had gone beyond lengthening an existing car when designing one especially for China.

Strictly speaking it should have been called a 2 Series, as it bears no relationship to the 1 Series hatchback and rides on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the 2 Series Active Tourer. With its small size and powerful 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre turbo engines, it should be a hit with those looking for a cheaper performance car.

Volkswagen launched the new Teramont, the Chinese name of the US-and-China-only Atlas large SUV. Also on display for the first time at a show was the recently launched C-TREK, a crossover wagon based on the Bora. VW announced a plan to launch a string of electric cars in China from 2020, but it was up to sister marque Audi to show a real deal in the form of the A6l e-tron plug-in hybrid, set for sale in China soon.

GAC Motors decided it needed something special on home turf and displayed the Enlight – a concept electric supercar. With butterfly doors and futuristic looks, it’s unlikely to go into production anytime soon. In the electric vehicle exhibition nearby, troubled Hanenery, whose Hong Kong listing lost nearly half its value in 24 minutes in May 2015 before being suspended, displayed its Solar R roadster. The company uses the world’s most efficient solar panels to boost range of its electric car to 420 km. In favourable sunny conditions, 8kW of power can be taken on board in five hours. Hanenergy claims the car is almost production ready and could be built in 2018.

Guangzhou always goes big on hybrids, and this year Honda showed off a hybrid version of the Accord, while Ford joined the Japanese party with a version of the Mondeo. With hybrids sidelined in China for PHEVs, due to government subsidies for new energy vehicles, it seems strange that manufacturers persist in trying to sell them.

GM, on the other hand, unveiled the Buick Velite concept of a new PHEV, which is rumoured to be a rebadged Volt in production form for China. Amongst some new cars for China are the Chevrolet Silverado and Colorado large pickup trucks. With many cities limiting entry to pickups, and Chinese law requiring them to have high visibility tape around the cargo bed, the market for these appears quite limited.

No Chinese auto show would be complete without an attack of the clones, and the honours this time went to the Landwind Daoyao and Lifan Xuanlang. Landwind, flush with cash from ripping off the Range Rover Evoque as the X7, offered up the Infiniti QX30-inspired Daoyao. It’s not an outright clone, however, and shows that Landwind might yet make it as a manufacturer to be taken seriously.

The Xuanlang, on the other hand, copies the Ford S-Max for Lifan’s first MPV. For Lifan, the quality is impressive with generally reasonable materials. The mechanism to access the third row of seats is stiff, though, and red paint from the body was splattered on the second-row seats.