Is a Chinese push on EVs - alongside the installation of extensive battery-charging infrastructure - coming?

Is a Chinese push on EVs - alongside the installation of extensive battery-charging infrastructure - coming?

This year's Beijing Auto Show was most notable for its lack of notability – at least in the sense that Chinese auto shows used to be jaw-droppingly notable.

The weirdly wonderful or eye-catching obvious doppelganger has been replaced by something quite a bit more sophisticated. Chinese car manufacturers have seriously brought their car designs up to global design standards and have been keeping the offices of Bertone, Pininfarina, and Ital Design Studio seriously busy throughout 2009.
 
The awkward looking designs of yesteryear have largely disappeared from the Beijing Auto Show, which ultimately serves as a giant window into the world of the Chinese Automobile Industry.

On the first day of the show big-hitter car company CEOs were present, including Daimler's Dieter Zetsche and Renault-Nissan's  Carlos Ghosn. Domestic auto leaders were also evident, including  the charismatic Geely leader, Li Shu Fu. The on hand Big Wigs certainly reinforced the rising sense of global prominence for the Auto China show.
 
Perhaps the most notable point of the first two days of the show were the grim faces of Western and Japanese auto executives - easily spotted by their company logos on their lapels. They went from stand to stand looking grimmer each time they reached a Chinese auto stand.

In previous auto shows they posed with broad self-satisfied grins on their faces, standing against awkwardly designed and clearly inferior Chinese cars. It was reminiscent of colonial hunters posing next to their dispatched big game prey. This time, however, they understood that Chinese cars are better and edging closer to entering their main Western markets.
 
The only happy looking Western automotive executives we saw were the ones that are in the business of selling luxury cars. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Bentley, Land Rover, and Jaguar all appeared to be doing sterling business and attracting massive crowds to their relatively small stands.

Both Chery and Geely signalled high ambitions with a surfeit of cars on massive all encompassing stands. Their respective ranges appear to have quite a bit of overlapping cars with both of them producing several MPVs, small hatchbacks, and coupes.

By contrast, Brilliance and BYD appeared to be showing a more conservative hand with only one car in each segment; although Brilliance have yet to launch an SUV and BYD are ahead in that segment,
 
Great Wall Motors broke away from its usual SUV oriented line-up with a range of sedans that were both impressive and well designed. 

Beijing Auto wheeled out its latest line of SUVs. Some 20 years after BAIC's joint venture with Chrysler began, Beijing Auto is actually making very good looking SUVs of its own. And Beijing Auto’s own version of the recently brought in Saab looked good, too.

A major theme at the past Chinese auto shows has been electric and hybrid cars. At past shows they’ve always been window dressing concept cars. This time it was remarkably different with all Chinese auto manufacturers bringing production ready vehicles to the show.

The only delay now is the lack of charging infrastructure within China. Now that the cars are ready, the government is likely to have a major push on electric charging stations. Watch that space.

Whilst hybrids and electric vehicles are gaining traction, there appears to have also been a big jump to small but powerful turbo-powered engines this year on the back of government taxes and incentives to encourage smaller displacement engine sales. That shift in the market helped by turbochargers will continue.

If China's auto industry ambitions were underlined by the exhibits on show, it is perhaps also worth mentioning the A-list credentials of the Beijing venue. 

The expansive new exhibition centre is well built with two clear wings (easily split into east and west wings) that make it easy to go from hall to hall; it is easy to walk around. It is quite a contrast to the Shanghai exhibition centre, which is essentially laid out in a gigantic V-shape, making it a long long walk back to the beginning when you’ve got to the end of a row of halls.
 
But there is  still a problem in Beijing. Getting there and out again is no piece of cake.

The downside to the new auto hall is that public transport to the facility is  terrible, and necessitates reliance on taxis. Be warned: they will  only take you if your destination is far enough to make it worth them driving you. Less than 20km, and it appears they’re happy to let you walk. 

This year's auto show takes place in what is expected to be a massive sales year for the Chinese market. As China bounces away from its early 2009 minor blip of a recession at a massive pace, the Chinese car market is likely to continue to hit new heights.

Auto China 2010 in Beijing revealed an industry growing in self-confidence, its domestic market zipping along nicely while the more mature Western markets languish. Western makers should take note that the Chinese are learning fast and that their automotive products are not the joke they once were.


Ash Sutcliffe

Based in Qingdao, Ash Sutcliffe is founder and editor of China Car Times and works as a consultant to Automotive PR.


The biennial Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in numbers:

  • Over 2,100 exhibitors from 16 countries and regions will participate.
  • The largest Auto China show ever, it utilises 200,000 square metres of floor space, with 19 exhibition halls.
  • Some 990 vehicles ate on display, including 89 world debuts, of which, 75 vehicles are entrants from China's automakers, 14 from multinationals.
  • Asian debuts include 41 from multinationals and 35 from China. Sixty-five concept cars will be exhibited, including 37 from the multinationals.

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