At the Shanghai motor show, some of the biggest manufacturers you’ve never heard of displayed their newest models alongside familiar Western brands keen to crack the world’s most lucrative automotive market.
Long gone are the days when Shanghai was an exhibition of the most blatant copycat cars, and the impressive quality of new Chinese creations is beginning to pose a very real threat to more established manufacturers. The 2019 edition was especially significant, with an increasing number of Chinese models being prepared for European launches and global manufacturers such as Volkswagen adding to their range of models adapted specifically for sale in China.
Shanghai 2019: Full show report
China’s car sales fell for the tenth consecutive month in March, pitching the country’s growing ranks of car makers face-first into an unprecedented headwind whipped up, in part, by on-going trade frictions with the US and a continued slowing of the global economy, stymying their dramatic growth of the past two decades and threatening new model plans along the way.
But if there were concerns for the long-term health of the Chinese car industry in what has been described as its biggest crisis yet, it certainly wasn’t showing as the 2019 Shanghai motor show opened its doors.
With business confidence in the world’s largest car market showing heartening signs of a rebound, owing to a timely reduction in sales tax ordered by the Chinese central government effective from the beginning of April, the mood within the vast halls of the international convention centre, where the country’s biggest motor show takes place every two years, was cautiously upbeat.
While China’s car sales have fallen for the good part of the past year, they continue to far outstrip those of any other country. The overall figure for March, at 2.52 million, showed the smallest decrease year-on-year in over seven months, at 5.2 per cent.
With many car makers reducing prices to boost sales in light of the tax break, expectations are total car sales for 2019 will be roughly in line with those of 2018 at around 22.5 million.
Predictably given the importance now placed on Shanghai motor show as an automotive showcase with international reach, every key Chinese car maker, including the five state-owned heavyweights SAIC, FAW, BAIC, Dongfeng and Changan, all presented new or improved production models this year. They were kept honest by an ever more competitive list of private own rivals headed by the likes of Geely, GAC, Great Wall Motors and BYD as well as key introductions by joint venture operations such as those operated by Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota and Honda.
It was the concept cars from established western car makers, including the clever new Audi AI:ME, versatile Volkswagen Roomzz and rugged looking Mercedes-Benz Concept GLB, that grabbed the headlines in the days leading up to Shanghai motor show. However, it was China’s growing number of increasingly well funded electric vehicle start-ups that stole the limelight once the veils went up.