First quarter passenger car sales in China may have been flat, but that does not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm for the Beijing Auto Show, which opened earlier this week. Every year, China’s major auto show alternates between Beijing and Shanghai, and every year, the show seems to get bigger.
This year’s show requires 230,000 square meters of floor space — 156,000 square meters for the assemblers in the new China International Exhibition Center, which opened in 2008 in the Shunyi District of Beijing, and 74,000 square meters of space in the old China International Exhibition Center, just off the 3rd Ring Road. As a measure of how big the auto business has become in China, before 2008 the assemblers and components companies were all able to fit in the old convention center. The components companies are not too happy with the new arrangement where they are forced to display their brake, transmission, engine and other components 20 kilometers away from the glitz surrounding the car models. I know of several, including some of the biggest auto suppliers in the world, who aren’t participating in this year’s show for that reason.
Unfortunately for the residents of Shunyi, traffic will be every bit as bad as in 2008 and 2010, the last two times the show was held in the new venue. Over 800,000 visitors are expected to visit the show in the one week that it is open. In addition to the visitors, of course, every player in the global auto industry will be present and contribute to the heavy traffic. Over 2,000 assemblers and component suppliers from 14 different countries are showcasing their products this year.
Despite the large amount of space that the new convention center has added, space to show off both existing and new models is at a premium. A total of 1,125 vehicles are on display, including 120 new models — 36 from international assemblers and 84 from Chinese car makers. In addition, 74 “concept” vehicles, highlighting new styling and product features that may be used in the cars of the future, as well as 88 new energy vehicles, will be unveiled. Gone are the days when auto companies brought only their existing models to China. Today, every company wants to bring their latest designs to the world’s largest car market.
Also gone are the days when automakers sold the same models worldwide with few local changes. The China market is now so large and so important that the most ambitious car makers, including the world’s luxury automakers, use the annual auto show to showcase sedans and SUVs with China-specific features.
Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini are among the brands introducing new vehicles at the show. Aston Martin may take the prize for the most expensive car at this year’s event. The company’s Dragon 88 will be priced at more than 5 million yuan (almost $800,000). If you want one, though, you had better hurry because only 88 cars will actually be produced. Earlier this year, the Rolls-Royce “Year of the Dragon” special edition Phantom sold out in a matter of months, despite a $1.2 million price tag.
This year, Bentley is unveiling an EXP 9 F SUV concept, which, if interest is high enough in China and elsewhere, the British company may put into production. Other luxury automakers like Lamborghini and Range Rover are following Bentley’s lead and using the show as a platform to unveil gas-guzzling SUVs. Range Rover is introducing its Evoque, which was designed by Victoria Beckham and Land Rover’s design chief. The Evoque will be available in October at a price of around £80,000 ($129,192). Not to be outdone, Lamborghini is showing off its Urus SUV concept, which Lamborghini describes as a potential “Cayenne-killer” in China.
All automakers positioned in the premium segment are putting on their best face for the China market. GM announced plans to bring five to ten new Cadillac models to China over the course of the next four years, and to build at least one China-based factory that will produce only Cadillacs. Jaguar unveiled its XJ Ultimate, which includes a special feature for China — embedded iPads, a staple in today’s China. BMW also debuted a China-focused version of its 3 Series sedan featuring a longer wheelbase that has become a must in the country.
And to show off all of those new car models, China’s real-life models are also getting into the act. Chinese models can make 5,000 to 10,000 yuan per day ($750 to $1,500) at this year’s show to look exotic alongside the exotic car models. Not bad work if you can get it. [Forbes]