Boasting of six consecutive years of record new car sales and the largest number of new vehicles built locally, it's no surprise that the world continues to turn its eyes to China when it hosts a motor show. In spite of the recent slowdown, it still continues to be a massive market. Proof of this is the numerous exclusive models and modifications offered by mainstream brands in the country. China's own manufacturers also take advantage of this world stage, debuting to the world their latest creations.
Our recent visit to Auto China 2016, also known as the Beijing Motor Show, proved to be an eye-opener, giving a glimpse, not just of how the world's established automakers see the potential in China, but how their homegrown brands see the global market.
Beijing hosted several world premieres this year. Notable production model debuts included the new Porsche 718 Cayman, which takes on the badge of the venerable open-cockpit racecar.
Audi lifted the covers off the its new TT RS, the performance version of its sports coupe and roadster models.
Lexus unveiled the updated and more aggressively styled IS sedan at Auto China. It is expected to arrive in the Philippines later this year.
Besides world premieres of global models, Auto China also made the rest of the world jealous with some models reserved only for the Chinese market.
One of these was the VW Phideon, the successor to the outgoing Phaeton luxury sedan. The SAIC-Volkswagen joint venture is built on the group's modular, longitudinal-engine MLB architecture. It's named after the Roman goddess of fidelity - Fides. Like the Phaeton, it is a large all-wheel drive with active air suspension. It's powered by a smaller 300-hp 3.0-liter turbo V-6 making 325 lb-ft of torque.
Like the Phideon, another large sedan that did not see success abroad but hopes to make it big in China is the Citroen C6. It's styled far more conservatively than its predecessor and built on the PSA Group's flexible EMP2 platform. It will be built in China by Dongfeng.
Love of long wheelbases
Another unique trait of the Chinese automarket is its love for long wheelbases. Many buyers see legroom as a status symbol, and as such prefer as much of it as possible. The taxation system also penalizes large engine displacements and outputs, relative to size. Hence this has led to the creation of some curious variants that don't typically receive the LWB treatment. Even the Toyota Yaris gets an L version!
One example revealed at the show was the Audi A4L 4.5 TFSI Quattro. As the lengthy name suggests, it's an A4, that nearly stretches to the length of an A6. It may have the 4.5 badge, but it's motivated by a 2.0-liter turbo with either 190 PS or 252 PS outputs, and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Mercedes-Benz was keen to show off its latest generation E-Class (W213), also stretched to the market's content. This is 140mm more than the standard E Class and powered by a 1.8-liter turbo.
Even the BMW X1 can now boast of the "Li" appendage that used to be exclusive to the 7-series and 5-series (in China). The new model has up to 180mm more rear legroom though is still smaller than an X3. There will be a number of variants, starting with the sDrive18Li all the way up to the xDrive20Li. The stretched BMW X1 will be built at BMW Brilliance's Tiexi plant in Shenyang.
Finally, Jaguar gives its XF some extra length too. It boasts of a 157mm increase with tempting standard equipment like four-zone automatic climate control, folding tray tables for the rear seats, and two 8.0-inch entertainment screens mounted on the back of the front seats. There's even a new “Clear Exit Detection” system that's meant to notify rear-seat passengers if a car is approaching from behind before he or she opens the rear door. Like its competitors, it will be powered by the XE's 2.0-liter turbo. It will be built at Chery Jaguar Land Rover's factory in Chengshu.
Easily the most eye-catching were creations of country's own motor companies, many of which boast electric powertrains and autonomous driving. Joint ventures with western firms have allowed these companies to quickly catch up in the technology race with concepts worthy of rivalling the west's best.
Leshi Internet Information & Technology, also known as LeEco, unveiled their answer to America's Tesla in the form of the LeSee. This pure electric car features autonomous driving LED lights, and cameras for side mirrors. Besides the car, the company is planning to develop an electric Aston Martin Rapide.
State-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC) plans to enter the electric supercar race with the Arcfox-7. The vehicle was designed in Barcelona, Spain, and features performance figures like 0-100 km/h in 3 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. It's started with a fingerprint scanner and can travel 300 km in one charge. It also presented an interesting concept based on its 'Jeep-inspired' BJ series.
Another supercar is the Qiantu K50, which uses electric power in a carbon fiver and aluminium body to accelerate to 100 in 4.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 200 km/h. This car, by contrast, is planned to be mass produced, slated to go on sale in 2017.
Finally, Chery showed off a crossover concept car with gullwing doors, a fully-electric powertrain and autonomous driving capability. The FV2030 (Future Vision 2030) imagines what cars will be like in that year with a futuristic but minimalist cabin, a 3D holographic display and windows that practically blend into the body.
Naturally, some Chinese automakers couldn't resist paying 'homage' to some famous vehicles. SUVs seemed to be the choice inspiration this year with 'creative interpretations' of the Mercedes-Benz's G-Class, Toyota's FJ Cruiser, Volvo's new XC90 and even Ford's EcoSport.
With luxury, mass market brands and exclusive sports car manufacturers, 2016 Auto China certainly served up a comprehensive and interesting peek into the present and future of motoring. It's no surprise it continues to be one of the highlights of the auto show calendar year.