More than 120,000 people flocked to the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition every day during its run April 21-29, making the best-attended auto show in the world. No wonder most of the world’s automakers are jockeying so hard for position in the Chinese new car market. Overall, more cars are sold there than anywhere and it will become the largest premium car market in the world soon.
The Beijing show featured more than 1,100 vehicles, including 118 world-premiere vehicles, 71 concepts and 79 so-called “new energy” vehicles – all or partly electric.
The show was like most auto shows, with lots of gleaming sheet metal and glitzy displays with attractive models. What US consumers would have found strange were the nameplates from the fast-growing Chinese automotive industry, both private and state owned. In all, nearly 100 different auto manufacturers were in Beijing to show their newest, best and brightest.
There were two distinct focuses: luxury and the environment, both very important in China. It is struggling with serious air pollution, making EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids important, but it’s also awash in newly rich consumers wanting powerful, plush and pretty status symbols.
Chinese tycoons are eager for cars like the Rolls-Royce Pinnacle Travel Phantom debuted here, or the world premier Bugatti Veyron Type 19 “Black Bess” of which three are available at $3.61 million each. China’s top-dollar entry was the $840,000 Hongqi L5 sedan with an all-aluminum 6.0-liter V-12, featuring 402 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque, plus hand-carved, cloud-motif wood inlays and celadon-jade door handles!
The Hongqi and most Chinese models won’t come to America, but we’ll see Japanese, Korean and European entries, like the BMW Vision Future Luxury concept. It takes the carbon fiber used in BMW’s i3 and applies it to this long, lean luxury sedan. It’s rumored this could become BMW’s top-of-the-line plug-in electric. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz unwrapped the Concept Coupe SUV with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 delivering 333 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. The adjustable chassis offers Comfort, Sport Plus, slippery-condition and driver-customized modes.
Audi unveiled the TT Offroad concept with innovative Wireless Charging technology that powers up via inductive pad instead of a plug. It has a 292-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 408 hp and sprints zero-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and 123-mpg fuel efficiency. Inside are a 12.3-inch display with 3D graphics and an in-cabin ionizer to get rid of allergens…and polluted air.
Two concepts from Volkswagen stood out. The R400 Golf sports a turbocharged four-cylinder 395-hp engine that can do 174 mph and race from zero to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. And it was splashy in silver-flake paint with yellow touches. VW’s Midsize Coupe concept (it will get a better name if produced) is sporty looking, shorter and wider than the Jetta. With a 2.0-liter, 217-hp engine it races from zero-62 mph in 6.5 seconds. It gets an estimated 37 mpg.
Lexus showcased its upcoming NX compact SUV, headed to the US with either 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 235 hp engine or as a hybrid offering 194 hp, both available in AWD. Lincoln’s showstopper was the MKX concept, about which one reviewer raved, “M-K-Meow” for its sexy styling. This is definitely not your father’s Lincoln, and it’s surely US-bound. Hyundai displayed a crossover concept, too, the ix25, that’s likely to make it to North America. Its compact size will make put it in competition with Chevy’s new Trax CUV, tricked out like one of the “Transformers” movie characters for its Beijing showing.
The Nissan Lannia concept, a sedan with sharp styling, was designed and built in China but with global appeal that hints at eventual wider distribution. Nissan called it a “sedan theory-breaker.” Honda’s B Hybrid Concept is designed for China but U.S. drivers would love its low, sleek and sexy look.
One clear takeaway from Beijing is that gas-guzzlers are being nudged aside by speedy, powerful, beautiful but lower-emission vehicles that consumers will want to buy. Yet, if you want to see trendy, this is the place for the world to see.