Beijing Auto Show 2012 Review

When your total vehicle market tops 18.5 million – cementing China’s position as the world’s largest sales territory – it’s bound to create a lot of interest from carmakers that want a slice of it. And despite the end of Government incentives fueling that huge final figure in the smaller budget car segments, the Chinese market overall is still growing, especially on the luxury side. The region is now Ferrari and Cadillac’s second most important market and Bentley’s biggest.

Unsurprisingly then, China’s largest annual car show in 2012 – Beijing’s Auto China – attracts the most international interest as another crucial marketing (and sales) opportunity for Western brands to present their latest products to Chinese consumers as well as a shop window for domestic Chinese car brands to reveal their progress as they prepare to export to more mature Western markets.

Of the 120 global unveils, big brands like Mercedes (Concept Style Coupe), BMW, Citroen and VW (E-Bugster Cabriolet) all chose Beijing to launch cars for the first time. There were dozens of seemingly close-to-production concepts from Chinese domestic brands too, but eco themes didn’t seem that high on any brand’s agenda – despite the traffic chaos and pollution for all to see outside Auto China’s show halls (see our forthcoming Beijing City Watch for more on this). However, there were still some interesting green-themed cars and pronouncements, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources, including an Italian supercar maker turned SUV provider with a penchant for bulls... Read on for Green Car Design’s 2012 Beijing auto show highlights…

Concept: Citroen DS Numero 9

Citroen says: “The DS line will be launched in China this year and, to mark the event, Citroën has designed a new concept car, Numéro 9, that signals the styling cues of the next three DS line models: a C-segment premium sedan, an SUV and a D-segment saloon.”

Spec sheet: 166mpg and 39g/km of CO2 are figures as stunning as this shooting brake concept’s form. 295bhp and a 5.4-sec 0-62mph time are also promised from this 1.6-litre petrol/electric plug-in hybrid. 

Citroen’s upmarket DS sub-brand is gaining momentum. With 200,000 already sold worldwide from three models (DS3, DS4 and the just launched DS5) it announced plans for another three models with the Numéro 9 concept informing their looks – especially in its new ‘fused’ headlamp and grille front face. Head of advanced design, Carlo Bonzanigo, told Green Car Design that the Numero 9 is “a true concept and a design study”, rather than a marketing exercise to herald a production car already signed off. However, he did concede that his design team had already done an exercise to see how this concept could be made more feasible as he said its “generous proportions for the Chinese market” were perhaps a bit long and low for production (although at 4930mm, its actually shorter than Citroen’s current flagship the C6). There was no interior to show, but remember the exterior when those next-gen DS models arrive.

Concept: Lamborghini Urus

Lamborghini says: “One target is clearly defined – the Lamborghini Urus will beat all comparable competitors when it comes to CO2 emissions. One important prerequisite for this is low weight and the Urus will be considerably lighter than its competitors.”

Spec sheet: Bold Italian supercar reveals bullish plans for a four-seat SUV that could treble sales while watching its waistline with an aggressive lightweight strategy.

Well I never! Lamborghini’s thinking green? While you could be forgiven for thinking Bentley’s recent SUV concept (EXP 9F) was all about visual heft and its ability to carrying heavy and expensive people and their picnic baskets, over at sister brand Lamborghini its SUV seems to signal a greener agenda. To be fair, Lamborghini’s 2010 Sesto Elemento concept also promoted the idea of ruthless lightweight design as a way of reducing CO2 emissions, but what makes its new Urus concept in some ways more interesting is that a) it looks much closer to production and b) as it could equate to 3000 sales a year, rather than the ultra limited 20 Sestos slated for production, its weight reduction tactics will have a greater impact. Key to the technologies that Lamborghini says will make the difference are extensive use of carbon fibre both in the bodyshell and on the interior, where the central tunnel and bucket seats are made of Forged Composite and only clad in leather where necessary. Lamborghini reassures that 600hp and all-wheel drive will still be available for the production model due early 2016 though. Phew!

Concept: Denza EV

Denza says: “The arrival of DENZA marked the first strictly New Energy Vehicle (NEV) brand in the Chinese market. The battery-driven vehicle defines a new level of sophistication in the Chinese NEV segment and is the result of the partnership between BYD and Daimler.”

Spec sheet: A brand new German/Chinese collaboration set up to comply with the Chinese government’s ‘request’ for joint ventures to launch separate new brands for the Chinese market. This one’s interestingly eco-only too.

Mercedes’ fledgling Chinese design studio – headed up by industry veteran Frenchman Olivier Boulay – is behind the new Denza concept that will become a production reality as early as next year. From the water-drop logo to the blue ambient lighting inside and out this full-electric model consistently reinforces its environmental message but also aims to be appealing, contemporary and comfortable for its intended Chinese middle class target market too. The rear area was apparently a particular focus with lounge-style seating able to recline with access via rear-hinged doors. All in all it’s a lot smarter and well designed than BYD’s rather mundane independent EV efforts to date, but the true test will come when we see the production model in 2013.        

Concept: Chery @ANT

Chery says: …Nothing I could find, in English at least. But there was this detail about its other Beijing show car, the TX, a concept far more competent than the following PR waffle suggests: “As the reflection of the design idea of the latest product of an enterprise, the concept car is the wind vane of the development trend of the automobile product design style in the future in the world and is also one of the focuses that draw much attention of the public on various international automobile exhibitions.” A ha…

Spec sheet: A scissor-doored pair of vehicles that suggest a docking system able to form a bigger energy-saving car train.

As mentioned above, there was a frustrating lack of information on what seemed to be the most innovative far-future concept from a Chinese domestic brand at Beijing in 2012. Which is a shame as Chery is one of the better-known Chinese brands and not short of ambition in its production sphere too. Case in point, despite being only founded 15 years ago in 1997, it’s recently signed a joint venture with Jaguar Land Rover to manufacture cars in China. 

Other notable concepts:

Great Wall Haval E Concept

Scissor doors were employed in a similar way over at Great Wall to jazz-up the brand’s existing top-selling Haval SUV and suggest – alongside lots of blue lighting – a possible future electric version. Again, info on how real or otherwise this concept is, was hard to locate, but the marque is becoming serious in sales terms. Rare among Chinese brands for being privately owned, rather than Government-backed, Great Wall shifted nearly 400,000 vehicles in 2010 and is launching into mature Western markets like the UK this year with a budget pick-up.

Honda Concept S

This concept got little airplay, but its coherent exterior design heralds a new compact MPV that could go global. The S apparently stands for Stylish, Smart and Surprise (which it was, and in reference to the third word, a pleasant one) but there’s little info on its eco credentials except that the intended powertrain will be a hybrid. Scheduled for sale in China through its JV Dongfeng Honda in 2013, a global launch is slated to follow.

Toyota Dear Qin & Yundong Shuangqing Concepts

Toyota Dear Sedan Concept


Toyota Dear Hatchback Concept

Toyota Yundong Shuangqing Concept

Another Japanese brand quietly unveiling ideas in Beijing was Toyota. Two sedans and (most convincing of all) a smart acid green hatchback, show the way Toyota is pushing its new “keener look” under new global design boss Tokuo Fukuichi. All are said to be hybrids sporting looks scheduled to make production circa 2015 as quote “globally strategic models”. Smarter than expected.

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