But this being China, a place with potholes that can swallow a car whole, SUVs were very much the order of the day and large ones at that. In addition to the now familiar Maserati Kubang, a new Porsche Cayenne GTS and Bentley’s endlessly controversial EXP 9F, Lamborghini unveiled its Urus SUV concept to collective gasps from the crowd. Despite its size and likely weight, even grizzled hacks appeared disinclined to take against it, the general view being that its projected 3000 units sales represented revenue Lamborghini could scarcely pass by on principle and that if it had to make an SUV, it was as well it looked like that. Somewhat cruelly it was unveiled within easy sight of the Bentley and if Crewe had come to China hoping its SUV might look slightly less out of place than it had in Geneva, the proximity of VW’s other super premium SUV might have come as something of a blow.
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Over at Land Rover there were no such problems. Its gamble to drive the 1 millionth Discovery from Birmingham to Beijing went so smoothly it must have kicked itself for going to the expense of taking three back up cars. It duly rolled onto the stand, a heroically filthy mess after 50 days on what was rarely recognisable as road. It struck a pleasing contrast to the limited edition Range Rover Evoque with remarkably tasteful paint and interior design by Mrs David Beckham intended primarily for the Chinese market but available (in theory at least) in the UK for a trifling £79,995 each, though that does buy you Victoria’s signature on your handbook.
The autograph on the Mercedes-Benz G63 and G65 AMG required a little extra rummaging to find, but pop the bonnet and you’ll find the paw print of one of Affalterbach’s finest on the front of the mighty new V8 and V12 engines located there. If the 544bhp G63 sounds dear at £110,000 it’s nothing compared to the £250,000 Mercedes would charge for the 600bhp G65 were it to offer it for sale in the UK. Some might say that’s quite an expensive way to trim 0.1sec of your 0-62mph time, though a Mercedes spokesperson would only describe its profit margin as ‘healthy’.
Meanwhile MG took another tentative step on the return journey to credibility with its Icon concept car. Though clearly not intended for production, its creators insist there is nothing on the car that could not be made were demand to be proven. In the meantime it was encouraging to see MG produce a concept that was aware of its heritage without being manacled to it and sufficiently wacky to draw the crowds, but not so outlandish it smacked of bored designers with nothing better to do.
Yet still despite these promising machines and others such as BMW’s i8 Spyder concept, the Audi Q3 RS concept and VW’s fun Bugster cabriolet concept, we had hoped to leave Beijing with a sense of a show all grown up and ready to take its place on the world stage not just for its sheer size, but its significance too. But while it’s on the way, it’s not quite there yet. It’s true that all those big hitters who snubbed Tokyo turned up in Beijing, but only Mercedes brought its A team. With Geneva just gone and Paris just the other side of summer there is a sense of manufacturers holding back the really good stuff for the more established shows.
As for Beijing it is by turns enthralling and maddening. It’s fun to see the cream of European automotive royalty lined up next to the serried ranks of Chinese domestics, many of which you may have barely heard. But the lack of information and, indeed, staff with the language skills to communicate it gives the feel of a local show and the sense of surprise when you express interest in a car that has never and will never be sold outside the People’s Republic is often palpable.