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Beijing motor show: China beckons

Asian significance: Volkswagen built the Neeza concept just for China.

The first Chinese vehicle range closes in on Oz, but is it at Auto China 2006?

22 Nov 2006

A FEW short years ago China’s biggest motor show would not have ranked much of a mention in the Western media. But those days have changed. Beijing’s Auto China 2006 this week played host to the debuts of a bevy of new models, including a number of quaint and queer cars that, thankfully, will never be seen outside the world’s most populated nation.

Likely to be among the ninth Auto China extravaganza, however, are at least a few unnamed models that will soon be seen on Australian roads, if a plan by Ateco Automotive to import Australia’s first Chinese vehicle franchise comes to fruition.

With all eyes on China’s burgeoning car industry and growing moves to export Chinese-made vehicles into the competitive western markets of Europe, North America and Australia, the Beijing auto show has taken on new significance. The number of cars sold in China is set to double from last year’s 2.78 million to more than six million in 2008 – and to swell beyond 10,000 within a few years. It is also reportedly working to increase vehicle and components exports to $US120 billion – which equates to around 10 per cent of world automotive trade – over the next decade. China can no longer be ignored.

Here is a cross-section of what is on display this year. Look closely and you might just get a sneak-preview of what could be in store from a bargain-basement car dealer near you.

Volkswagen Neeza
PROVING that Shanghai-Volkswagen has moved from being a pure assembler to a full manufacturing operation with an independent design team is the Neeza concept, which made its world debut at Auto China. Named after a character from ancient Chinese mythology, the mid-sized Neeza is claimed to bridge the gap between sports coupe and station wagon and is proudly described as having been designed in China for China. According to Shanghai-Volkswagen, Neeza showcases "an all-round talent unifying Chinese and German automotive expertise in a new car generation". "The concept opens the window to the future of new models from Shanghai Volkswagen," the company said. Also making its premiere appearance was SVW’s large Passat-based Magotan sedan, the Tiguan SUV-previewing Concept A, a sedan version of the Golf GTI (dubbed Bora HS), the CrossPolo, and the Eos, China’s first coupe-convertible.

Zhonghua M3
THE name might be a blatant rip-off of one of BMW’s iconic performance monikers, but the Zhonghua M3 concept looks surprisingly cohesive and non-derivative in its execution. Presented at Auto China by Jinbei Automotive, a subsidiary of China Brilliance, the M3 show car is in fact a two-seater three-door hatch that measures 4488mm long, 1812mm wide and 1385mm high. Doing a remarkable impression of being a coupe, it rides on 18-inch wheels and is powered by an in-house-developed 1.8-litre engine that is claimed to propel the M3 to a top speed of 220km/h.

Cadillac SLS
GENERAL Motors’ luxury brand Cadillac was out in force at Auto China, where it unveiled the Escalade SUV and the new SLS – a stretched version of the brand’s STC sports sedan, complete with Australian-developed Alloytec engines. Both models will join Cadillac’s Chinese range, which includes the CTS sedan, the XLR roadster and the SRX crossover.

Offering an extra 100mm of rear legroom, the SLS interior is designed to meet specific local needs in China’s primarily chauffeur-driven luxury segment. Alongside the top-level Northstar 239kW 4.6-litre V8, the STS will offer two (2.8- and 3.6-litre) versions of the Alloytec V6 that powers Holden’s Commodore. The new SLS will be built at the Shanghai GM plant for the Chinese market.

President and managing director of the GM China Group – and former Holden executive – Kevin Wale, said GM’s multi-brand approach in China "enables us to successfully compete in all important segments of the fastest growing market in the world". "I am looking forward to finishing 2006 as another year of record growth for GM in China," he said. Cadillac has enjoyed remarkable success since its introduction to China in 2004. For the first nine months of this year, GM’s China Group has recorded sales of 645,680, driven by Buick (up 27.8 per cent), Chevrolet (up 51.0 per cent) and Cadillac (up 27.1 per cent), as well as China’s number one micro-car brand, Wuling (up 38.7 per cent).

3 center imageLeft: Cadillac SLS, Maybach 62 S, Chery A5 ISG, Auspicious Eagle, Zhonghua M3.

GM concept cars such as the Saab Aero-X, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet WTCC Ultra also made their Chinese debut.

Chery A5 ISG
CHINA has hopped on the hybrid bandwagon via what is claimed to be the first Chinese-made petrol-electric car – Chery’s A5 ISG. Although few details are forthcoming, Chery’s hybrid is based on the A5 sedan and features an Acteco 1.3-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor. The 64kW 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine was developed with Austrian-based engine company AVL and switches on at speeds above 40km/h.

The announcement came hot on the heels of GM’s deal to build hybrids in China with partner Shanghai Auto, while Chinese competitor Geely Automobile recently announced plans for its first hybrid model early next year.

The A5 hybrid joined three other Chery vehicles to be unveiled in Beijing – the Fengyun II Coupe, the V2 and the Tiggo 5. The Fengyun II sports coupe concept follows in the path of the Chery M14 coupe, which was introduced at the 2005 Shanghai car show, while the Tiggo 5 is a Tiggo-based crossover concept.

The V2 is a production-ready eight-seater people-mover with three rows of seats that looks like a cut-down Renault van. It is powered by an Acteco 1.3-litre engine and includes dual airbags and ABS (with EBD).

Chery Automobile has also just announced that it will enter a $US100 million joint venture with Argentina’s Scoma SA group to build 25,000 cars a year for the South American market. Chery currently builds 400,000 cars a year in China and exports to 53 countries.

Dongfeng D120
AMONG the plethora of products built in partnership with Citroen, Nissan and Honda, China’s DongFeng presented a D120 sportscar prototype at Auto China. D120 (a name in which the D represents DongFeng, Dream and Development, and 120 stands for the company’s aim to produce 1.2 million vehicles by 2008) was designed by DongFeng itself. It is powered by a 2.4-litre Euro II emissions-compliant engine and features independent suspension, hydraulic power steering and ABS brakes.

Maybach 62 S
BILLED as the world’s most powerful chauffeur-driven saloon, which in itself raises more questions than answers, Maybach’s new 62 S made its world debut at Auto China 2006. As DaimlerChrysler’s answer to BMW’s Rolls-Royce, Maybach describes its fourth model in four years as "a new pinnacle in high-end luxury car production". In Maybach speak, "S" stands for "Special" and in this case represents the fitment of the short-wheelbase 57 S Maybach’s AMG-tuned twin-turbo 450kW/1000Nm 6.0-litre V12 in the LWB 62 – instead of the garden variety 62’s 5.5-litre version. As such, the 62 S is the new flagship of the Maybach range and in China will be aimed at the burgeoning chauffeur-driven super-luxury car market. Distinguished from the regular 62 via a redesigned grille, 20-inch alloy wheels and modified light clusters, the S features the same exclusive single-tone paintwork, in black or silver, as the 57 S. Discreet "62 S" lettering also adorns the bootlid and the front wings beneath the A-pillars. Despite blasting from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds, Maybach claims that unlike the stiffer and lower chassis of the 57 S, the 62 S retains its LWB donor car’s full spring travel to retain the same level of ride quality.

Changan Xingging
ONE of the more bizarre concepts at this year’s Auto China was the Xingging, presented by Changan Automobile. Described as "an aerodynamically shaped multi-purpose vehicle aimed at young urban professionals", the Xingging is designed to house up to five people and their surfing equipment. Little other information was provided by the Changan Group, whose Ford-Mazda affiliate also presented the Mazda3, Volvo S40 and Ford’s new S-Max. Meantime, Changan Suzuki revealed the Tianyu SX4 (a sedan version of the SX4), while Changan also holds the independent intellectual property rights to Landwind’s new CV6, CV7 sedan and Fashion models – all of which debuted.

FAW Hongqi HQ3
AMID no fewer than 30 new concept or production cars in the FAW Group stand in Beijing was the Hongqi HQ3, a mid-size sedan featuring top-end equipment like a night vision system, adaptive front lighting, speed-sensing electronic steering, electronic parking assistance, DVD navigation system and reversing camera. Also on offer are safety features like eight airbags and a radar-equipped pre-collision system, while engine choices range from 170kW 3.0-litre to 206kW 4.3-litre petrol engines mated to a six-speed auto. FAW also showed its Haima S1, a sports car concept that aims to exhibit the Shanghai R&D office’s capabilities, and the Hongqi C601 concept.

Jianguai Auspicious Eagle
ALSO going by the less interesting name of JAC Rein, the Anhui Jianghuai-produced Auspicious Eagle is claimed to be China’s first homegrown SUV. Built in partnership with Bosch, Aisin, Siemens and German engine specialist AVL, Hyundai’s Chinese affiliate used its Turin design office in Italy to concoct this Kluger-like crossover. Measuring 4500mm long, 1875mm wide and 1730mm high, the Auspicious Eagle claims to offer close to 50/50 weight distribution, independent suspension all round, 207mm of ground clearance and Euro III-compliant DOHC 2.4-litre power.

Also on display from Jianghuai at Beijing was the Italian-designed JAC Eagle concept based on the Rein, the JAC Vision2 concept (a follow-up to the Vision concept that appeared at the 2005 Shanghai motor show), and the JAC Ruifeng – a modified, rebadged version of Hyundai’s Refine van.

Geely FengYing
SCISSOR-DOORED supercars have caught on in China, if Geely Automobile’s Fengying concept is any indication. Geely claims the Fengying prototype aims to resemble a plane, but its Vision sedan is far closer to reality as the production version of the car that debuted at the 2005 Frankfurt motor show under its development code, FC-1. To be built at Geely’s new Ningbo factory, which also produces the brand’s Free Cruiser, Vision rides on a 2602mm wheelbase and is 4602mm long, 1725mm wide and 1480mm high. Vision is powered by Geely’s own 57kW 1.8-litre engine and CVT combination, and – along with the likes of the Free Cruiser and the equally new King Kong – will replace even cheaper and nastier entry-level models like Meirie and Haoging.

Wuling Hong Tu
HONG TU is the newest people-mover to hit China, courtesy of SAIC-GM-Wuling. Presented at Auto China 2006, Wuling’s latest model is a "high-end minivan" that is said to offer a simple yet elegant, comfortable and spacious interior. Developed by Wuling with support from the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC) – General Motors’ automotive engineering and design joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC in Shanghai) – Hong Tu is claimed to be 68 per cent new. Hong Tu gives Wuling Automotive’s joint venture with GM China a complete people-mover line-up, which also includes the Sunshine, New Sunshine, 6360 and Little Tornado models.

Daihatsu D-01
TOYOTA’S micro-car subsidiary used Beijing to preview the small SUV (or, as it calls it, "compact multi-purpose passenger car") it will build in partnership with China FAW Group Corporation from mid-2007. To be built in Jilin City, Jilin Province, following the technology licensing agreement signed by Daihatsu and FAW, the D-01 prototype will evolve into a production model that will be sold under the Daihatsu banner throughout China. Daihatsu also displayed its Be-go SUV, Copen roadster and HVS hybrid sportscar.

Great Wall Cool Bear
CHINESE light commercial vehicle builder Great Wall will enter the passenger car market for the first time in 2007, when its new production facility opens with a capacity of 200,000 vehicles annually. As such, the car-maker’s first passenger models were trumpeted from the Beijing rooftops, led by the Scion-based Cool Bear. Another product of Great Wall’s joint venture with Toyota is the Daihatsu Terios-based Gwerpi, while the Yaris-based Florid hatch is also powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine.

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