At the Shanghai motor show, some of the biggest manufacturers you’ve never heard of displayed their newest models alongside familiar Western brands keen to crack the world’s most lucrative automotive market.
Long gone are the days when Shanghai was an exhibition of the most blatant copycat cars, and the impressive quality of new Chinese creations is beginning to pose a very real threat to more established manufacturers. The 2019 edition was especially significant, with an increasing number of Chinese models being prepared for European launches and global manufacturers such as Volkswagen adding to their range of models adapted specifically for sale in China.
Shanghai 2019: Full show report
China’s car sales fell for the tenth consecutive month in March, pitching the country’s growing ranks of car makers face-first into an unprecedented headwind whipped up, in part, by on-going trade frictions with the US and a continued slowing of the global economy, stymying their dramatic growth of the past two decades and threatening new model plans along the way.
But if there were concerns for the long-term health of the Chinese car industry in what has been described as its biggest crisis yet, it certainly wasn’t showing as the 2019 Shanghai motor show opened its doors.
With business confidence in the world’s largest car market showing heartening signs of a rebound, owing to a timely reduction in sales tax ordered by the Chinese central government effective from the beginning of April, the mood within the vast halls of the international convention centre, where the country’s biggest motor show takes place every two years, was cautiously upbeat.
While China’s car sales have fallen for the good part of the past year, they continue to far outstrip those of any other country. The overall figure for March, at 2.52 million, showed the smallest decrease year-on-year in over seven months, at 5.2 per cent.
With many car makers reducing prices to boost sales in light of the tax break, expectations are total car sales for 2019 will be roughly in line with those of 2018 at around 22.5 million.
Predictably given the importance now placed on Shanghai motor show as an automotive showcase with international reach, every key Chinese car maker, including the five state-owned heavyweights SAIC, FAW, BAIC, Dongfeng and Changan, all presented new or improved production models this year. They were kept honest by an ever more competitive list of private own rivals headed by the likes of Geely, GAC, Great Wall Motors and BYD as well as key introductions by joint venture operations such as those operated by Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota and Honda.
It was the concept cars from established western car makers, including the clever new Audi AI:ME, versatile Volkswagen Roomzz and rugged looking Mercedes-Benz Concept GLB, that grabbed the headlines in the days leading up to Shanghai motor show. However, it was China’s growing number of increasingly well funded electric vehicle start-ups that stole the limelight once the veils went up.
With China’s electric car sales showing no sign of a slow down despite a recent reduction in government subsidies, the competition for the attention of buyers is now intense.
Zero local emission compatibility and other key technology solutions play a big part in the attraction of new cars for Chinese buyers and it was being laid on thick by the likes of Nio, XPeng, Weltmeister, Singulato, Byton, Aiways, Bordrin Motor and Leap Motors, along with many other newly-created electric vehicle start-ups, several of which are based in and around the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai itself.
With promises of ranges of up to 373 miles and charging times of less than 15 minutes, China’s latest electric cars have, it seems, now breached the point where they can compete head to head with those from Tesla and perhaps, more importantly, more traditional combustion engine rivals.
From advanced 5G connectivity solutions to smart holographic augmented reality head-up displays, the latest in autonomous driving functions and new hydrogen-fuelled power units, this year’s Shanghai motor show proved without any doubt that China has once and for all arrived as an automotive force – and not only for domestic consumption but with truly global credentials.
As one seasoned automotive industry official opined as BYD’s design boss, Wolfgang Egger, presented the stylish electric-powered e-SEED GT: “Shanghai, it’s the new Detroit”.
One solid theme evident in Shanghai this year was a surprise swing away from SUVs towards contemporary new sedans, the most notable of which, the Nio ET, Enovate ME-S, Xpeng P7 and Qoros Mile II, all boasted newly developed platforms with pure electric drive systems in a direct
Aware at the threat China’s electric vehicle start-ups pose to their business, many of the country’s established car makers have also begun to create their own electric vehicle sub-brands to attract new customers, as evidenced by the prominence given to BAIC’s Arcfox, GAC’s Aion and Geely’s Geometry brands – all of which had something genuinely new on display.
In March, sales of so-called new energy vehicles in China, which include both plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, jumped an astonishing 85.4% over the same period last year to over 126,000.
But just as electric vehicles are seemingly coming into their own, China is looking further ahead in a bid to outdo its western rivals. Nowhere was this more evident than on the Grove Hydrogen stand, which showcased the Granite – a highly desirable looking Porsche Panamera-sized sedan designed by Pininfarina and powered by a newly developed hydrogen fuel cell power unit.
The focus wasn’t purely on technology, though. The launch of Volkswagen’s new Jetta brand, which is aimed at younger first-time car buyers, was a reminder for all at Shanghai that for cars to remain popular in China against competition from new forms of mobility sharing they need to be financially attainable for the majority of the population.
Times might be tough right now, but China’s car industry still has its foot firmly on the throttle.
Shanghai 2019: What was on display
Aston Martin Rapide E
Aston Martin is aiming the new Rapide E electric performance saloon squarely at the Tesla Model S and Porsche Taycan.
A torque output of 738lb ft will help the Rapide E to sprint from 50mph-70mph in under 1.6 seconds, and the model can cruise at its 155mph top speed for 10 straight minutes.
Aston Martin Rapide E: new details of electric super-saloon
Audi AI:ME concept
Audi has unveiled its new AI:ME concept as “an automated driving compact car for the megacities of tomorrow”. Like the radical Aicon and Elaine duo revealed in 2017, the concept looks ahead “10 or 15 years”, according to company design boss Marc Lichte.
The electric concept explores “what an interior with or without a steering wheel can look like” and will be followed by another futuristic concept at Frankfurt in September.
Futuristic Audi AI:ME concept hints at Volkswagen ID rival
Audi Q2 L e-tron
Audi’s China-only long-wheelbase Q2 L is the latest model to receive the e-tron treatment. Badged the Q2 L e-tron, the electric compact SUV will be built in Foshan, alongside Chinese variants of the A3 Sportback and A3 Saloon, by Volkswagen Group partner First Automotive Works (FAW).
The model is the first of ten planned for launch by Audi and FAW in China by 2022 and the first electric Audi tailored specifically for the Chinese market.
2019 Audi E-tron Sportback previewed at Geneva
BMW 3 Series LWB
Audi isn’t the only German brand showing an extended version of one of its newest models in China.
The new BMW 3 Series has been adapted for the Chinese market, and is on display in long-wheelbase 3 Series L form. Almost as long as the 5 Series available in Europe, the new model has been developed alongside the standard 3 Series, and will be built by BMW’s Chinese partner company Brilliance Automotive.
BYD hybrid supercar
Chinese company BYD showed off a sleek, low sports car with a prominent greenhouse-style cabin and performance-inspired design elements.
Little is known about the model’s powertrain, but Chinese media reports that a four-wheel drive variant will likely use a 2.0-litre petrol engine coupled to an electric motor for a combined output of 469bhp.
Volvo and Lotus owner Geely will show its GE11 electric saloon in Shanghai ahead of the model’s European launch later this year.
To be sold under the newly formed Geely New Energy marque, the fastback-styled EV has been designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. The Chinese company states that the model’s environmentally conscious ethos doesn’t end with its zero-emissions powertrain; its interior is constructed largely of EU-certified eco-friendly materials.
Geely Jia Ji
Also on display in Shanghai will be Geely’s first MPV, the Jia Ji.
Recently unveiled in Zhuhai, the seven-seater is offered with a range of hybrid and diesel powertrains, Level 2 autonomy, dynamic styling and a starting price of just RMB 99,800 (£11,200).
Geely’s third Shanghai debut-maker will be the Xingyue SUV-coupé.
Originally known as the FY11, the BMW X6 rival sits atop the same Compact Modular Architecture that also underpins the Volvo XC40 and Lynk&Co 01. It will offer a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine – producing 235bhp and 258lb ft – and a range of plug-in and mild hybrid powertrains.
Infiniti QS Inspiration
Despite Infiniti’s recent announcement that it is pulling out of Western Europe, it is pressing on with plans for an electrified model line-up.
The QS Inspiration concept, on display for the first time in Shanghai, previews an upcoming sports saloon “inspired by the art and modern architecture of Japan”. Like the QX Inspiration revealed earlier this year, it will sit atop the firm’s bespoke EV platform, and boast a stylish, minimalist interior, which will be clearly divided into separate passenger and driver zones.
Jetta is the new China-only budget brand being launched by Volkswagen in Shanghai, with the VS5, VS7 and VA3 the first models being made available.
Taking the form of a conventional five-door SUV, the VS5 bears a heavy resemblance to the recently unveiled Skoda Kamiq, while the VA3 is a small saloon based on the Volkswagen Jetta that’s currently sold in China.
Heading up the range, the VS7 is a 4600mm-long seven seater that draws heavily on the new Seat Tarraco. The brand aims to target younger buyers with a strong dealer network and online showrooms.
Jetta: New China-only Volkswagen models shown at Shanghai
Karma Pininfarina GT
Karma, born out of the 2014 collapse of Fisker Automotive, has unveiled a rebodied variant of its new Revero GT styled by Italian design house Pininfarina.
Sitting atop the same platform as the new Revero, with which it also shares a 1.5-litre BMW i8-derived petrol-electric powertrain, the concept shows off an angular, streamlined front end and a prominent lower grille like that of the original Fisker Karma.
Karma teases Pininfarina-designed electric luxury car
Joining the new Pininfarina-designed concept on Karma’s Shanghai stand is the updated-for-2020 version of the brand’s Revero luxury saloon.
The four-door range-extender electric car takes its three-cylinder petrol engine from the BMW i8. The model receives subtle styling revisions but retains an overarching resemblance to the Fisker Karma, from which it was developed. Karma has plans to launch the new Revero in Europe as a competitor to the Polestar 1 performance hybrid.
New Karma Revero plug-in hybrid saloon tests in Europe
Rounding off Karma’s ‘Shanghai Big Three’ is the Vision concept.
Karma said this open-top two-seater will play a role in the brand’s transformation from a traditional car manufacturer into “an open-platform luxury high-tech automotive incubator”, like the Italdesign DaVinci electric supercar revealed earlier this year at the Geneva motor show.
Codenamed E315, the latest effort from Jiangling Motors brand Landwind is a stylish compact SUV that will go up against the likes of the Volvo XC60, Lynk&Co 01 and Haval H6.
Details remain scarce, but the E315 is expected to have five seats and make use of the same 1.5-litre Ford-derived unit that powered Landwind’s Range Rover Evoque copycat, the X7, which has just been forcibly discontinued.
Taking the form of an SUV-coupé, the Geely-owned Lynk&Co brand’s fifth model is a BMW X6 rival based on its 01.
It will sit atop the Volvo-developed CMA platform and will likely use the Swedish company’s range of 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engines. A European launch is likely but unconfirmed.
Lynk&Co tests fifth model in run-up to European launch
Mercedes’ new small SUV, previewed in concept form, will sit between the current GLC and GLA models, and will take on rivals like the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40.
Styling across the GLB range will be influenced by the more utilitarian G-Class, while a range-topping GLB 35 variant will pack the same 302bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine as AMG’s A35 hot hatchback.
Mercedes-Benz targets Audi Q3 with rugged GLB concept
Mini Clubman facelift
The Mini Clubman has been on sale in its current form since 2015, and is showing off a mid-life refresh in Shanghai.
The Volkswagen Golf rival gains very subtle styling updates in line with those bestowed upon its hatchback sibling last year, trim revisions and minor upgrades to the interior options list.
Mistubishi e-Yi concept
Mitsubishi is following the Geneva unveiling of its Engleberg Tourer concept with the more urban-focussed e-Yi at Shanghai.
Like the Engleberg, the e-Yi evolves the styling of Mitsubishi’s current Outlander PHEV, packs a 2.4-litre petrol engine mated to a pair of electric motors, and makes use of the brand’s latest torque vectoring technology to improve the handling of the four-wheel drive SUV.
Chinese electric vehicle start-up Nio has revealed the latest model in its rapidly expanding product line: a concept version of an upcoming Tesla Model S rival called the ET7.
With a sleek four-door coupe design, the “ET preview” concept’s styling provides clear influence for the production model. No information about the car has been released as yet, but we know it will be all-electric and feature much of the technology found in the brand’s other models.
The model is on display alongside the company’s EP9 electric supercar, EVE autonomous concept and ES6 and ES8 SUVs.
Porsche Cayenne Coupé
Making its international motor show debut in Shanghai is Porsche’s latest SUV – the Cayenne Coupé.
Going up against the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, the rakish high-rider features an active rear spoiler, interior technology from the larger Cayenne and a top speed of up to 178mph.
Porsche Cayenne Coupe: new BMW X6 rival revealed
Based on the Kwid SUV Renault already sells in India, the electric City K-ZE is a production-ready evolution of a concept first shown in Paris last year.
The value EV is headed to China first, given the country’s exploding demand for electric cars, before a potential European launch.
Renault City K-ZE: production version of budget EV revealed
Volkswagen ID Roomzz
The largest member of Volkswagen’s ID range of electric vehicles so far (above the hatchback, Buzz, Crozz and Vizzion), the Roomzz concept is a luxurious seven-seater SUV, sitting atop the largest version of the company’s MEB platform.
A pair of electric motors give the Touareg-sized model 302bhp and part-time four-wheel drive. Range is a claimed 370 miles, which is a significant improvement over its primary rival, the Tesla Model X.
Volkswagen Roomzz concept previews 2021 Model X rival
A four-door saloon set to rival Tesla’s Model 3, Xpeng’s new coupé-styled EV has a claimed range of more than 311 miles according to China’s NEDC-based tests.
There are currently no details on what drivetrain the P7 uses, but it is likely to share an electric motor and battery with the company’s G3, an Audi Q5-sized SUV that develops 195bhp for a 0-62mph time of 7.9sec.
China’s Xpeng previews new Tesla Model 3 rival