Two million people. At one point, that’s how many people were watching Chinese media interview our European editor Greg Kable on a live web stream off a smartphone of their coverage of the Guangzhou motor show. Later in the day, that was up to six million.
Everything about the car industry here usual resorts to discussions running into the millions – the amount of cars sold, the amount of investments being made, probably even the amount of people at the show itself, and seemingly the amount of new models here given the rapid rate at which more and more new cars are released by more and more brands, each with ambition and strong backing.
An impressive show it was too. Some 10 show halls were packed, with a rough split of the western brands – unlike at recent ‘mainstream shows’ in Frankfurt and Tokyo, there were no no-shows here, with every single major manufacturer having a decent presence – and the local car makers displaying ever more impressive models on ever more impressive stands.
The domestic cars at Chinese motor shows used to be made up of no hopers, never will bes, or shameless rip offs. That just simply isn’t true anymore, even everyone’s favourite copycat, the Landwind X7 – or China’s Evoque – made a concerted effort to not quite be the most shameless of rip offs (even though it still is), and where those that weren’t playing with the photocopier all ended like looking about as inspiring as a 1980s Honda Civic, no longer is that the case either.
And the Chinese car makers are coming to Europe, be in doubt. Many of the big players here – chief among them market-leading SUV maker Great Wall, which owns China’s biggest selling brand in Haval and its first attempt at a credible brand with real export appeal in Wey – all spoke with confidence of plans to launch in Europe. GAC, at its home motor show, confirmed plans for a design studio in California as part of its plans to launch in US with its Trumpchi brand, which proudly claims to make the most expensive Chinese-built cars from a domestic brand.
The cars coming will arrive with some credibility behind them, the brands perhaps less so. As one senior Chinese executive put it, you only get one chance to get it wrong. Strong brands are needed if the Chinese car makers are to be a success, but on the evidence of the Guangzhou show they are getting there. The car makers are open to discussion, and clearly observe and learn from the western brands each partners with in mutually beneficial.
A consensus seemed to emerge on the early part of the next decade to be right to launch into Europe with credible propositions, and given how much progress has been made by the industry here in the past five years in improving the quality and desirability of its models, one wonders just how much more can be made in the next five years, especially given the vast amount of talent that has been imported by Chinese car makers from Europe, particularly German brands, to help them get there.
Do not underestimate the significance of the motor show in China, as is shown by the amount there are, the sheer amount of people here covering it for a vast, booming media industry (the fourth biggest media agency in China, the Internet Info Agency, alone has 100 motoring journalists and 50 more tech developers to support them), and the millions watching not just Greg, but the show stars you can read about below.
Geneva aside, no other motor show has had as much as a heartbeat to it this year than Guangzhou; shows like this are rapidly beginning to feel like the centre of the industry, and their significance will only grow alongside the quality of the models on show.