The Chinese car market has cooled considerably from the heady double-digit growth of a few years ago, while auto brand competition is fiercer than ever. But there’s still no other car market on the globe quite like China, so Western and Asian brands are joining their Chinese counterparts in clustering at the Shanghai Auto Show this week.
• General Motors plans to spend more than $16 billion in new car development to cater to Chinese tastes. Shanghai GM, its 50-50 joint venture with SAIC Motor, plans to use the funds to develop at least 10 all-new or facelifted models each year from 2016-2020. The venture needs to “stay alert, and move even faster in shaping our core competence for the future,” Wang Yongqing, president of Shanghai GM, told the Wall Street Journal.
• GM’s Chevrolet unveiled an all-new Chevy Malibu and the FNR self-driving car concept (above). Developed in Shanghai by GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC) joint venture, GM’s press release describes it as having “a futuristic capsule design (with) crystal laser headlights and taillights, dragonfly dual swing doors, magnetic hubless wheel electric motors and a wireless auto-charge system.” What’s more, it adds,
“The Chevrolet-FNR is loaded with a range of intelligent technologies usually seen only in science fiction movies. They include sensors and roof-mounted radar that can map out the environment to enable driverless operation, Chevy Intelligent Assistant and iris recognition start. (Italics ours.) The Chevrolet-FNR can also serve as a ‘personal assistant’ to map out the best route to the driver’s preferred destination. In self-driving mode, the vehicle’s front seats can swivel 180 degrees to face the rear seats, creating a more intimate setting. The driver can switch to manual mode through the gesture control feature.”
• GM’s luxury Cadillac brand announced it will add a plug-in hybrid drivetrain to the CT6 coming later this year, and expects the system to more than double the car’s fuel economy. CT6’s advanced technology and lightweight construction should make it “an ideal platform for Cadillac to offer its first plug-in hybrid,” said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen.
• Ford unveiled (among other news) a new Taurus sedan aimed at affluent Chinese customers as one of four vehicles that it unveiled two days ahead of the show’s beginning. While Taurus is regarded in China much as it is in the US—as a mainstream, not luxury, sedan—Ford has packed the new model with features that business customers will like, including reclining seats and more legroom in the back, in a market where some car owners prefer to be driven rather than drive themselves. “We have the space, the prestige, the daqi (expansive luxury) that business customers are looking for,” said Trevor Worthington, Ford’s Asia Pacific VP of product development to the Wall Street Journal, using a Chinese term that would resonate with local car-buyers.
• Infiniti is showcasing the Q70L Bespoke Edition at the show, showing off a concept car-inspired interior for the first time, including four luxurious seats wrapped in quilted white leather.
• Volvo is planning to bring its China-made S60 Inscription sedan in the US, marking the first time Chinese-built passenger cars will roll into American showrooms. Parent Geely Automobile is eager to “prove that a Chinese company can manage a global auto brand,” CNN noted. “We don’t highlight where the vehicle is built but we don’t keep it a secret. We sell them as Volvos and we know they are exactly the same in quality no matter where they are produced,” CEO Håkan Samuelsson told CNN. “Given that Volvo’s brand is staked on its reputation for safety, analysts said the company will have to tread carefully,” CNN added.
• Volkswagen is producing 15 models of green cars in China, in line with the show’s big focus on sustainability given the nation’s fast-growing population and increasing need for environmental innovation. That focus extends beyond cars: US-based Johnson Controls, for example, announced that it is now producing advanced conventional batteries on the mainland in a bid to increase gas mileage and reduce emissions, including a start-stop technology that enables cars to turn off momentarily at a traffic light.
Other changes are sweeping through the show. Organizers this year have banned so-called “car babes” so attendees can focus on cars, in a drastic departure from shows elsewhere. Also lurking in the background is the rise of a “gray market” in China for luxury cars that have been imported after first landing in other markets such as the Middle East, an increasing factor that is eroding prices in China.