The Beijing International Automotive Exhibition is a barometer of the state of the world’s biggest passenger-vehicle market. New cars are launched, start-ups vie for attention against their multinational rivals. 

This year’s show is significant for some key reasons: China is beginning to open up its automobile market after two decades of restrictions on how much foreigners can own in local car ventures; secondly, the electric vehicle juggernaut is beginning to gather steam; and then there’s a looming trade war.

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The founder of Chinese start-up Qiantu Motor is jostling for a slice of the world’s biggest electric-vehicle market, and says the race for leadership in the industry has barely started. The company is set to kick off sales of its 700,000 yuan (US$111,000) K50 sports car in July. The battery-powered car accelerates from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 4.6 seconds and can reach a maximum speed of 200km/h (124mph). It has a range of 365 kilometres on a single charge.

Maybach was the first off the blocks, extending the ultra-luxury badge with a crossover, complete with a porcelain tea service embedded in a heatable ebony-wood tray. 

Aimed squarely at billionaires perusing the Beijing auto show’s offerings this week, a concept model on display includes optional white nappa-leather lie-flat seats with massage and aromatherapy functions. Mercedes isn’t commenting on when it’ll decide on offering the vehicle.

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Volkswagen is unloading its wallet. With its US$18 billion technology push, VW is shifting into overdrive, bolstered by spending at its Chinese joint ventures, as the German carmaker seeks an edge in producing electric, self-driving autos. The partnerships’ technology investments in the next five years will total 15 billion (US$18 billion), Jochem Heizmann, head of Volkswagen’s business in China, said on Tuesday at a new-model presentation in Beijing.

China looks poised to lead the auto market. Chinese billionaire Li Shufu has catapulted from founding his Geely Group as a refrigerator maker in the 1980s to owning Volvo Cars, British sports carmaker Lotus, London Black Cabs and the largest stake in Daimler AG – the inventor of the automobile. Now he is spearheading China’s aspirations to wedge itself among the big three of the global car industry – the US, Germany and Japan – so they become the Big Four.

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