Auto Shanghai 2011

Although still not officially recognised as a car expo of ‘international status’ in some quarters, the Shanghai auto show has quickly risen from global obscurity to become one of the world’s most important car exhibitions as China has usurped the US to become the biggest vehicle market in the world. In 2010 it sold nearly 14 million passenger cars alone and including buses, vans and trucks, just over 18m vehicles in total.

The 14th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, better known as Auto Shanghai 2011 – alongside the Beijing show it alternates with every other year – acts as a barometer of the Chinese market and the products on display reflect the immediate and near future dreams of a people. And judging by the vast array of conventionally-powered production cars packed into the 11 – yes eleven – large show halls, those dreams were more often focused on having a beautiful car or indeed any new car at all, than one with a particularly eco-focused powertrain.

The number of global vehicle unveils from established Western brands was higher than ever. Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Peugeot, Citroen and VW (with a pleasing new remix of its Beetle icon) all chose Shanghai to launch globally relevant product for the first time and there were many close-to-production concepts from Chinese domestic brands too, but green themes seemed to be less foregrounded than at previous shows. However, there were still some interesting eco-conscious vehicles and ideas in among the production car-heavy stands and with congestion increasing in China’s big cities – as witnessed first hand on the show’s opening day – it’s an issue that’s definitely on China’s radar. Read on for Green Car Design’s Shanghai auto show highlights…

Production - Citroen DS5

Citroen says: The eagerly anticipated third model in its distinctive DS line. The DS5 combines groundbreaking style, exceptional refinement and innovative engineering solutions

Spec sheet: Way better looking than most conventional Citroens (and the first two DS models in particular) with some genuinely groundbreaking diesel hybrid engine technology underneath. This time it seems the upmarket French sub-brand has found substance and style to match the hype. 

Normally, eco-focused cars get hit with the ugly stick for having the temerity to ‘aim environmental’ but, unlike its oddly proportioned Peugeot 3008 sister car that shares the new diesel-hybrid tech, the DS5 is rakishly good-looking as well as boasting 200bhp, emission-free electric-only power in the city and a CO2 rating of 99g/km. Alongside an original-looking interior that’s not been conceived by abstaining monks, the DS5 – complete with its unique and very cool watch strap design leather seat detailing – is a step in the right direction for greener car design. More like this please.

Concept - Icona Fuselage & E3WM

Icona says: Founded in early 2010, Icona Shanghai brings together some of the best European design, engineering, modeling and prototyping experience in the automotive sector for the benefit of its customers in China and Asia. At the Shanghai 2011 Auto Show Icona introduces two new vehicles, both based on electric powertrains.

Spec sheet: Italian design house start-up reveals a stylish lightweight and aerodynamic four-seat EV sedan plus a tilt and steer three-wheel, two-seat personal mobility vehicle.

Icona Shanghai’s a new name in design but the provenance of the Tecnocad Progetti and Cecomp companies who set up the new venture boast of 30 years’ experience in styling and engineering prototypes from Italy’s automotive heartland in Turin. The results unveiled for Shanghai are two-fold. First up is a beautifully designed sedan with a coupe-like silhouette called Fuselage focused on aerodynamics with a Cd of just 0.26 (the Toyota Prius is only marginally better at 0.25). Far from just a pretty shell it offers a zero emission full-electric powertrain with four sub-axle motors giving a range of 130 miles, a rapid 4.5 second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 124mph. It also has a full interior with a floating dash, weighs only 1287kg and has been designed to accommodate a small range-extender combustion engine if so desired.

The E3WM is a very different proposition offering two passengers a three-wheeled vehicle safer than a scooter or motorbike but smaller and more nimble than a car. Icona says the vehicle has been virtually tested to rigorous Euro NCAP standards so no helmets are required. A genuinely futuristic showcase for an interesting new entrant – although the champagne-sipping model with the dress split at the thigh in the press shots might be a little too retro for some!

Concept - Geely McCar

Geely says: “With the performances of Geely models and Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra Group, McCar opened its back port and gave its staring audience a magical change” (!)

Spec sheet: Far from a collaboration with a notorious US fast food chain and a Chinese car brand, the Geely McCar is an interesting hybrid compact car concept sporting a scooter port in the rear.

We’ve seen similar vehicle-within-a-vehicle yacht and tender-style concepts before – the 2001 Honda Unibox and 2009 Honda EV-N immediately spring to mind although their visual execution was extremely different, but the McCar by Chinese brand Geely is nonetheless an interesting idea. It combines a credibly sized scooter inside a car that looks to be a similar size to a supermini MPV, like perhaps a Renault Modus. In order to fit, Geely’s designers have carved out a long trench between the car’s seats where a conventional transmission tunnel would sit in which to house its compact scooter once the handle bars have folded back and down horizontally into the main body of the scooter. Both vehicles look contemporary, feasible and ‘eco logical’ – park the car on the edge of the city and drive the scooter further into it when congestion gets too tough for bigger vehicles – and at the exhibition the concept’s space was also shown to be adaptable for wheelchair access. A production version from this concept has been talked about but even if nothing directly comes of it, the ambition from Geely – Volvo’s new owners no less don’t forget – is real and growing by every show.

Production - Audi Q3

Audi says: Latest Audi entrant offers all the benefits of SUV ownership in a more compact and ‘city-friendly’ form

Spec sheet: Audi continues the downsizing trend, presenting its small crossover Q3 to rival the equally pocket-sized Range Rover Evoque

Who on earth needs a seven-seat, five metre-plus Q7 when they only carry four or five passengers for the majority of the time? Not many. The answer could then lie in the downsized Q3 which offers good room for five in a very similar shape – although some might say more differentiation from Audi would be nice – and in a package some 70cm shorter at just 4385mm long while still able to swallow a maximum of 1365 litres. To back up the point, the manual gearbox 2.0-litre TDI will be offered in front-wheel drive, low rolling resistance tyres and stop/start engine tech to achieve 54-plus mpg while a sub-1500kg weight is ensured through use of aluminium and high-strength steel body panels. Overall, the Q3 has ‘hit’ written all over it.

Production : Mini Inspired by Goodwood

Mini says: Built under the guidance of the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars design team, it transfers the unmistakable style of the British luxury car manufacturer to the equally unique founder of the premium small car segment.

Spec sheet: Luxury downsizing is the name of the game for this 1000-piece limited edition production model boasting an interior kitted out by sister brand Rolls-Royce.

Following on from Aston Martin’s Cygnet and Fiat’s 695 Tributo Ferrari (based on the Toyota iQ and Fiat 500 respectively), this Mini edition is another car that puts wind in the sails of the small luxe trend. The exterior might not look that different, apart from flasher alloys and an exclusive black metallic paint job – tapping into another trend of the last few global recession-hit years, stealth luxe – but the interior is pure Rolls-Royce. Walnut Burr details, a leather dashboard top, cashmere roof linings and deep-pile lambswool foot mats all feature in the most luxuriously appointed production Mini yet and undoubtedly a wonderful place to sit. Far from over the top ‘shouty’ luxury, it’s nonetheless still a real luxury statement within a vastly reduced physical and ecological footprint.

Concept - Luxgen Neora

Luxgen says: The Neora perfectly represents Luxgen’s brand spirit of ‘Think Ahead’ and its new form of appearance will be the design cues for Luxgen’s upcoming models

Spec sheet: A neatly designed all-electric ‘tech-connected’ concept for fledgling brand Luxgen (the name is modestly derived from ‘Luxury x Genius’) courtesy of new Chinese/Taiwanese parent company Dongfeng Yulon. 

If you recognise echoes of various GM concepts and production cars in this vehicle – especially around the Cheetah-face style front headlights akin to the Opel Insignia – it will come as no surprise to learn the Neora is the work of ex-GM designer James Shyr who worked as a director at GM’s Chinese design studio PATAC based in Shanghai. Still, it’s a tidy enough exterior design, if a little fussy in the chrome grille execution. The inside is better, where a blue-lit ambient cabin with distinctive air vents is further differentiated by fresh use of recycled and non-dyed or processed light wood on the dashboard top. The concept – in association with mobile smart phone maker HTC – also promises high levels of connectivity with access to a computer data cloud and the ability to book recharging stations remotely by phone as well as gauge existing remaining charge, alongside retro-futuristic Tron-a-like head-up display vistas. Production details were scarce but the decent quality of the concept and Luxgen’s other recent pre-production prototypes suggest the marque could yet be another new Asian car brand to watch.