Road Ahead

Sizzling China Auto Show Peek at Future Global Products

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All roads lead to Beijing this week as global auto makers strut their stuff in the world’s largest vehicle market and the buying public gets its first look at new products.

Some 65 concept vehicles and 95 “new-energy” cars from foreign and Chinese auto makers are among the 990 models on display at the Auto China 2010 show in Beijing that runs from April 25 to May 2.

A good many of these vehicles have all-electric or hybrid powertrains, as everyone seeks a piece of China’s ever-expanding automotive pie, where vehicle sales sped past 10 million last year.

China has been an outstanding exception to the industry’s sharp downturn from the global recession that hit in late-2008, leaving many regions including the U.S. and Europe still struggling today.

Yet, many experts say the country’s white-hot growth is in question in the world’s third-largest economy, despite a strong consumer sentiment. So far, the government’s effort to cool the market has been only mildly successful.

Real-estate speculation continues to fan inflation, as upwardly mobile city dwellers seek to upgrade their living conditions by buying new homes, a report in The Wall Street Journal says. Indeed, house prices in major cities rose 11.7% in March, their fastest growth rate in five years.

But that’s nothing compared with vehicle sales, which soared 55.8% year-on-year in March to 1.74 million units and up 33.6% from the 942,900 units sold in February, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. First-quarter sales jumped 71.8% to 4.61 million.

Passenger-car deliveries, alone, rose 63.2% to 1.26 million units in March and 76.3% in the first-quarter to 3.52 million, the group says.

Chinese officials continue to warn vehicle sales are likely to slow beginning this quarter, because of tougher comparisons with like-2009. About this time last year, China unrolled incentives to boost consumption as part of its economic stimulus plan, including cuts on the sales tax of small cars.

But don’t tell that to the more than 2,100 automotive manufacturers from 16 countries or regions that registered for the Beijing auto show and the more than 680,000 expected visitors.

The Chinese market is particularly crucial for General Motors, the No.3 largest foreign auto maker in the country, which is looking to boost annual sales to more than 3 million in 2015 in what has become one of its biggest markets.

More than half of its sales last year were made up of Buicks, and GM is showing off three of its latest models: the Regal, LaCrosse and Excel XT hatchback. But arguably its most exciting unveil is a 5-passeger multipurpose concept vehicle based on the ’11 Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle that launches sales in the U.S. in October.

The concept vehicle rides on the same platform as the production sedan but has larger proportions for more roominess, making it longer, wider and taller.

The sexy concept sports 19-in. wheels, and I can’t help but think it would be very attractive to U.S. buyers looking for electric vehicles that not only have style and range but also the capacity to conveniently haul the stuff Americans expect of their cars.

A Chevy spokesman tells Ward’s no production plans currently exist for the MPV5 in any market, including China and the U.S., but it’s not a stretch to suggest that could change. In the global industry’s new normal, what debuts in China heralds the most, not the least, important future products of the day.

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Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at WardsAuto.com. He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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