16 June 2004

The eyes of the automotive world fell on China last week when the Beijing Auto Show played host to 1600 exhibitors and dozens of world debuts – from the new Ford Focus concept (above) to some exciting home-grown sports cars.

If you build cars, China is the place to be right now. It is on course to become the world’s second biggest car market and, underlining its importance, some of the world’s biggest manufacturers unveiled major expansion plans.

Even premium manufacturers are sniffing around for future growth prospects, with Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Spyker and Maybach all attending for the first time. Only a few years ago, many would have laughed at the idea.

Ford’s Focus saloon concept was the most significant event; the choice of China as a launch venue shows just how crucial the Blue Oval rates the region, when it could have shown the car at last week’s British Motor Show – in its biggest market – or waited until the Paris Motor Show in September. The concept formed a major part of the biggest stand at the show, Ford also showcasing around 40 models in total across its Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Aston Martin and Mazda families. Most of these brands are not yet sold in China, but that is all about to change.

Not to be outdone, Chinese car makers were grabbing a slice of the action with a wave of new metal, the most interesting of which was the Chang’an Chinese Dragon (right), a svelte two-seater roadster powered by a 3.2-litre V8. Chang’an also unveiled the Yangtze River Sturgeon, a classy-looking four-door coupé with suicide rear doors, like the RX-8. Both are far removed from its previous lacklustre Suzuki-based range.

The very Chinese-named Great Wall Motors revealed its Isuzu-based Hover SUV. Chery, the state-owned car maker that is one name in the frame for a UK launch through Subaru and Daihatsu importer IM Group, revealed its New Crossover. DVD player and sat-nav are on the options list for the seven-seater, along with a choice of three petrol engines between 1.9 and 2.4 litres.

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Nissan also unveiled a well-kitted out Chinese-market version of its Teana saloon, called the Tian-lai.

Among the world’s top automotive brands, the race is on to saturate the Chinese market with as many of their models as possible. Everyone wants to gain a foothold, as analysts continue to predict that China will become the world’s second largest market after the US.

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