Today was the Press Day of Auto China 2014 in Beijing, the biggest annual Chinese Auto Show alternatively hosted in Shanghai and Beijing. My first striking impression is that even though China is now by far the biggest car market in the world and on target to equal the US and Europe put together by 2030, this is still mainly an Auto Show by Chinese carmakers for Chinese journalists. Non-Chinese colleagues are a small minority for the most part confined to Western brands stands, and it is very difficult to find staff at any carmaker stand (Chinese or otherwise) that speaks English, making the ‘Press’ in Press Day pretty much a one way street: taking pictures without asking much.
If you are a regular BSCB reader you will know my particular interest for Chinese brands and their fast evolution at home, so I was literally like a kid in a candy store all day. I will cover each Chinese brand exhibited at the Beijing Auto 2014 in much more detail shortly. Let’s just say that their enthusiasm, abundance of new models and (for some) fun launch mise-en-scènes reminded me of a lost time (at least in Europe and the States) when carmakers were all about celebration without taking themselves too seriously. And you will see the fun Chinese carmakers are not the ones you’d expect – actually I’m not sure I actually expected any of them to be fun at all.
To me today the Chinese manufacturer that seemed to have the most fun at the Show was small carmaker Zotye. From models interacting with the audience in a natural way (see the first picture of this report) to salesmen greeting you with a genuine smiley face (and voice), actually interested in knowing what you think of the cars, opening the ones that were supposed to be closed “just for you” and wowed when learning I would publish some pictures of their cars on my blog, this was a very refreshing stand indeed.
Dongfeng was not far behind, with models either playfully glamourous or self-depreciatingly serious (see above), JAC compensated their so-so cars with overly sultry models, Venucia was way more youthfully slick than I was expecting and GAC surprised me with their huge stand, aggressive cars and very official Transformers endorsement complete with Michael Bay videos and actual Transformers characters strolling the alleys of the Show.
Haima unveiled its all-new S5 SUV with a live show from local popstar and The Voice of China runner-up Wu Mochou featuring a video clip of her song perfectly integrating the car (I will publish the video shortly), while Great Wall chose to not exhibit any passenger cars and instead produced an enormous stand for its SUV brand Haval, with lots of surprises in it.
In the Western world car celebrity endorsements are almost a thing of the past. Not so in China. Beyonce was everywhere you set your eyes on through enormous billboards of her Toyota Yaris L and Vios endorsement, Peugeot made sure you knew they signed tennis player Novak Djokovic and Lifan had Portuguese superstar soccer player Luis Figo on their stand which triggered a mini-riot among the Chinese press!
Luxury FAW brand Hongqi lived up to its reputation with a very sophisticated stand, a PHEV version of its H7 flagship and a new L5 “revival” treated with the reverence you normally see on a Lamborghini stand.
If journalists may not have caught up with the fact that China is the present and future of the car industry, worldwide manufacturers have, thank you very much. The Lincoln MKX Concept is the first ever Lincoln revealed outside the US, Chevrolet unveiled a new Cruze which, granted, looks like a Ford Focus from the front but is way better than the grossly made-up US Cruze revealed in New York earlier this week, and while still selling both the 9th and 10th generation Corolla in China, Toyota launched its 11th iteration along with the Levin, looking suspiciously similar to the US Corolla. 4 Corolla variants in one country yes, but only in China.
There were a few disappointments too. BYD-Daimler unveiled the first model of their new EV brand Denza, and in my view it just confirmed that EV cars will have to be forced down consumers’ throat and wallet if all manufacturers continue to make them so ugly (Tesla is the exception here).
The much awaited all-new and only-for-China DS 6WR SUV, supposedly inspired by the mouth-watering Wild Rubis concept, turned out to be a mere 4WDish variant of the relatively featureless DS 5LS sedan. Its 4 cylinder engine and common looks made one French colleague of mine compare the 6WR to – shock, horror – the Dacia Duster… I won’t go that far. Let’s hope the Chinese will succumb to its charms nevertheless.
Finally, not that it was really a surprise, Mitsubishi presented a dumbfounding PHEV ‘concept’ that made even the model posing next to it embarrassed…
Stay tuned for the complete coverage of the Beijing Auto Show 2014!