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April 19, 2017

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Autos take center stage amid glitz, slowing sales

THE weeklong 17th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, which begins on April 21, will showcase the latest technologies and show how modern-day vehicles go beyond just driving from point A to point B.

The theme this year is “Committed to Better Life.”

The auto show traditionally attracts visitors from around the world. They will be treated to a preview of how the automobiles will feature in the low-carbon, “smart city” of the future.

The focus this year will be on non-polluting vehicles, sport-utility vehicles, autonomous driving and the “connected” car. China already has the largest green-vehicle market in the world, and the show will press home that leadership role.

Green or conventional, China is the largest car market in the world. Auto sales last year surged 14 percent, their fastest level in three years. A total of about 28 million cars were sold in 2016, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

This year, the growth rate will slow a little bit, analysts predict. An industry report published by UBS cites the government policy of raising the purchase tax.

The Shanghai Auto Show this year is expected to attract about 1 million visitors. There will certainly be plenty on offer to inspect and appraise.

New-energy vehicles

Carmakers will be displaying a series of green vehicles and their plans for future production of non-polluting models.

Ford has confirmed that it will bring to China a new, fully electric small SUV with a range of more than 450 kilometers. It is expected to be on the roads within five years. Changan Ford said the Mondeo Energi, Ford’s first plug-in hybrid in China, will make its debut early next year.

Nio, a Shanghai-based electric vehicle manufacturer formally known as NextEV, said it will showcase 11 vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show, including its fastest electric car, called the EP9, an autonomous electric concept car called EVE, and a new production car.

Nio recently teamed up with Changan Automobile in the production of electric cars for the Chinese market.

Despite sluggish sales of green vehicles in the first two months of this year, carmakers are wearing a brave smile about future prospects. Market enthusiasm has been rattled by reductions in subsidies for purchases of new-energy vehicles.

About 22,000 new-energy vehicles were sold in January and February, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

“Sales were influenced by seasonal and government policy considerations,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association. “However, figures since March will show an improvement.”

In China, 73 models of new-energy vehicles are expected to be launched this year, an 80 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The government has pledged to accelerate development of charging infrastructure for electric cars, providing some stimulus for more production. China is going to add 800,000 charging poles in 2017, said Zheng Shanjie, deputy head of the National Energy Administration.

The number of public charging poles hit 150,000 at the end of last year, an increase from 50,000 a year earlier, Zheng added.

Sport-utility vehicles

Sport-utility vehicles remain very popular in China, and the auto show will be introducing the latest models.

Alfa Romeo, an Italian car manufacturer, will bring its new SUV model called Stelvio to the show.

SAIC Skoda will showcase its new SUV named Kodiaq. The company said the model is the opening round of a new series of SUV models.

Chinese families still consider SUVs as their first car choice because of the larger interior space and more generous seating, said Shu Chang, a principal of the German consulting firm Roland Berger.

Sales of sport-utility vehicles reached 1.6 million units in the first two months of this year, up 22 percent from the same period last year.

SUVs will continue to drive consumption because people in the 25-35 age bracket are the main buyers, said Shi Jianhua, deputy secretary-general of China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. He said about four in five car buyers in China want an SUV.

Autonomous Driving

Driverless cars, despite the growing pains they have experienced in some overseas mishaps, will nonetheless be a highlight on the auto show.

“Autonomous cars create the potential for trillions of dollars of annual savings because of better safety and lower running costs,” said Hou Yankun, the head of Asia auto research at UBS.

China’s long-term roadmap calls for highly or fully autonomous vehicles to be on the roads here as early as 2021, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers of China.

“Autonomous driving should become commonplace as soon as 2030,” said Dong Yang, vice president of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Nio’s EVE is one of the self-driving concept cars to be showcased at the auto show. The car’s interior is like a living room in design, with a voice-activated assistant and augmented-reality screen.

The company revealed plans to make self-driving vehicles available to US consumers in 2020.

Shanghai is proving an advantageous place for carmakers to test autonomous cars and connected vehicles after the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle (Shanghai) Pilot Zone — an advanced testing ground — opened last year in Jiading District.

“Connected vehicles will be a key in the development of the smart cities of the future, and that’s why we are testing cars in the Shanghai demo zone,” said Mark Fields, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co.

The Shanghai Auto Show will be held in the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), which is located at 168 East Yinggang Road. The exhibition center connects with Hongqiao Airport and the Hongqiao Railway Station via Metro Line 2.


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