Electric SUVs, supercars and much more - China’s biggest day in the automotive calendar didn't disappoint
Julian Rendell
20 April 2017

The Shanghai motor show is disorientating from several perspectives. Apart from the obvious travel-related challenges, grappling with the size and diversity of China’s new car market is a different scale altogether.

Walking around the vast halls of the show, a visitor is confronted by a bewildering array of unknown car brands and names: Haval, Iconiq, Jiangling and Wey are but a small sample.

The last time I was in China, about ten years ago, these local manufacturers were well below Western standards in terms of design and interior quality.

But as I’d heard numerous times from industry sources, the standard of Chinese local manufacturers has risen exponentially.

A quick walkaround tour of the show revealed interiors with interesting grains, close stitching and neatly proportioned switchgear. There is still huge room for improvement, though: for example, hard interior plastics remain the rule rather than the exception and some engineering foul-ups are still in evidence.

But the significant point is that Chinese homegrown car makers are catching up with the Western ones at a rate of knots.

Recruitment of high-profile design talent such as Geely’s Peter Horbury and Tomas Ingenlath, are well-known but European consultants including Pininfarina and Alfredo Stola are behind others.

There is still plenty of room in this huge market, however, for both domestic and import brands. New car sales in China topped 25 million last year, and despite a momentary lull are expected to climb further.

Just over half those sales are saloons, with the balance of SUVs expected to grow.

Sales of large saloons are still dominated by the chauffeur market, to the degree that Volvo only sells a long-wheelbase S90 saloon in China, which means it doesn’t need a ‘L’ badge that’s applied ubiquitously to rivals' LWB models.

“[Geely] Chairman Li Shufu was adamant that we wouldn’t put an L on the trunk,’ said Volvo design chief Ingenlath.

But there’s a good reason why manufacturers like Geely, Haval and Jinbao had show stands festooned with small, medium and large SUVs – Chinese family drivers are flocking to such models, attracted by their practicality, suitability for pockmarked roads and styling/image.

They’re affordable, too, for China’s growing middle class with increasing disposable income. A C-segment Jianling SUV with crisp styling and an attractive interior costs the equivalent of £16,000, which is at least £10,000 cheaper than a similar small SUV in the UK.

The Jianling has a fake-leather wrapped dashboard, chrome-trimmed switchgear and door cards that combine at least four finishes, including faux-carbonfibre. Bargain-basement it is not.

Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess reckons that at least 30 new SUVs have been launched in the past 18 months to feed this frenzy, and more are on the way.

But Western brands are catching up. The Citroën C3-XR, a China-only soft-roader, is recording 10% growth year-on-year, and a C3 Picasso is due shortly.

Citroën launched the C5 Aircross in China to boost its sales back towards the 2% market share it once enjoyed – that’s about 500,000 cars.  ‘We are working hard to recover back. More SUV models are a big part of it, but so is a reorganisation of our dealer network,’ said Citroën boss Linda Jackson.

Skoda is pushing hard in China, the brand's biggest market, with plans to double sales to 600,000 units by 2020, boosted by new hybrid and battery electric models.

“The drive in China for EVs is stronger than in Europe, for a couple of reasons, and we are both pushing for cleaner air and lower emissions,’ said Skoda boss Bernhard Maier.

China is touted as the world’s biggest market for electric cars, although apart from a handful of Tesla Model Ss, they aren’t easy to spot on the roads of Shanghai.

China seems to like British cars – all the Union Jack premium brands had stands at Shanghai. But the cutest display was reserved for a café in the show area: Blue Car @ Mini is a large space decorated mostly with a range of right-hand-drive Mini classic models, sparkled up with a range of soft-toy bulldogs.

There are still knock-off designs on sale in China, most notably Landwind’s outrageous photocopy of the Range Rover Evoque. But elsewhere, there’s evidence of the uninhibited creativity that flows from confidence and optimism.

Read more: History of the Chinese copycat car: picture gallery

How the motor show unfolded:

 

Shanghai motor show 2017 – the cars

Audi E-tron Sportback

Audi's new electric concept shows a rival to the forthcoming Jaguar I-Pace. The E-tron Sportback gets 496bhp and a production version will follow in 2019.

BMW M4 CS

BMW’s harder version of the M4 takes the brand’s legendary CS badge. Originally planned for the Spanish market alone, the hardened M4 (or softened M4 GTS) will be offered in further markets following its Shanghai appearance.

Read more: The most exciting new cars due in 2017

BMW 5 Series Li

 

The wheelbase of the new 5 Series has been stretched by 133mm to create the China-only 5 Series Li, taking the overall length to 5069mm, which is just 29mm shy of the length of the standard-wheelbase BMW 7 Series.

BYD Dynasty electric prototype

The Chinese brand is showing off an electric prototype in Shanghai, following its Song EV300 and Song DM electric and plug-in hybrid models.

Citroën C5 Aircross

Previewed at the Geneva motor show in design sketches revealed by CEO Linda Jackson, the C5 Aircross is Citroën’s long overdue rival to the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar.

Lexus NX facelift

Lexus' rival to the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC is getting a mid-life refresh, which we'll first see at the Shanghai motor show. Lexus isn't giving much away, but promises interior tech and convenience features in addition to the exterior tweaks.

Read more: Lexus prepares production UX and seven-seat Range Rover rival

Lynk&Co 01

The inaugural car from Geely's new Lynk&Co brand, the 01 SUV, will be the “most connected car to date” and is based on the underpinnings of its as-yet-unborn cousin, the Volvo XC40. It’ll be followed by 02 and 03 models, but will kickstart what Geely hopes will be a prolific brand for a new generation of car owners.

Read more: First Lynk&Co car and mobility services previewed

McLaren 720S and 570GT Commemorative Edition

The British supercar manufacturer will start to increase its presence in the Chinese market with these two models, following a promising sales boost in the country last year.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Saloon

Mercedes-Benz doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to new market niches, and it’s hot on the heels of the Audi A3 Saloon with the A-Class Saloon in Shanghai. It's not a production version, more a near production-ready concept, but the final version shouldn’t stray too far from it when it arrives in 2019.

Read more: Entry-level Mercedes-Benz A-Class saloon on the cards

Mercedes-Benz S-Class facelift

Mercedes-Benz's facelifted biggest saloon is the most autonomous car the brand has produced yet. It gets a refreshed exterior, new interior and technology updates, and we've already taken a ride in one.

MG E-Motion concept

The MG E-Motion supercar concept takes the company back to its sports car roots, albeit with an electric powertrain, with a 0-62mph time of less than 4.0sec and a range of more than 310 miles.

MG ZS

This Nissan Juke-rivalling SUV from MG will get a different name when it reaches the UK, but in Shanghai it's being shown as the ZS.

Mini Countryman Plug-In Hybrid

Mini's first electrified model goes on sale in June, after being revealed in Shanghai. No word on pricing has yet been released, but expect it to carry a premium over the standard Countryman. The PHEV's powertrain provides an electric-only range of up to 30 miles. 

Nio ES8 electric SUV 

Nio's second model is a far cry from the tiny-volume EP9 electric hypercar, but the China-market only SUV bears some resemblance to the Faraday Future FF 91. It's expected to be a big-seller.

Qoros Super EV concept

Qoros has teamed up with Koenigsegg to produce the Super EV concept; a 310-mile-range, four-door, four-seat supercar, but it's unlikely to make production.

Renault RS 2027 Vision concept

The French brand has predicted what the Formula 1 racer of tomorrow will look and perform like with this concept, which includes connected and autonomous technology.

Skoda Vision E concept

The new Skoda Vision E concept is a concept precursor to the Czech brand’s first electric vehicle. It’ll go on sale around the end of the decade, following the launch of a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant of the Superb hatchback.

VLF Force 1 V10 roadster

We’ve seen the £215,500 VLF Force 1 coupé, and Shanghai we saw the roadster version for the first time. It’ll be priced significantly above its fixed-roof sibling, although no details have yet been released.

Read more: 218mph Force 1 supercar revealed

Volkswagen I.D Crozz

Volkswagen’s I.D electric vehicle range grows again, with what, given the current market climate, could prove to be its best-seller. The I.D Crozz SUV follows the I.D hatchback and I.D Buzz concepts, which all use the Volkswagen Group's new MEB electric vehicle (EV) platform.

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the self-proclaimed ‘best car in the world’, is back. Or is it?

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