LUCA CIFERRI

Europeans take center stage in Shanghai

Luca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News EuropeLuca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News Europe
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European automakers were once second-tier exhibitors at the Shanghai auto show, but at this year's event they are taking center stage with more than a dozen production and concept car debuts.

In fact, this year's Shanghai show could be confused with any of the major international auto shows such as Frankfurt's IAA or the Paris salon if it were not for the many Chinese domestic brands on display here.

Volkswagen Group sells more cars in China than in Germany and, not surprisingly, used the Shanghai stage to unveil crucial models such as the Audi Q3 compact SUV, as well the third-generation VW Beetle -- or the second generation of the new Beetle, if you prefer.

BMW shot even higher: the rakish new 6-series coupe made its debut here. While -- irony of globalization! -- the world's largest premium automaker chose a communist country to unveil its fastest 5-series model ever, the concept which previews the next M5.

France is still the biggest market for Citroen, but the French automaker invited about 100 journalists from all over the world to Shanghai to see it unveil the third model in its near-premium subbrand, the DS5.

Even Renault, which is not selling cars in China in significant numbers yet, decided it was time to showcase its entire lineup -- including the Dezir concept -- here in Shanghai.

Democratic positioning

The show is a collection of 13 small pavilions grouped in three areas – seven in the east wing, five in the west wing and just one used (of the five available) in the north wing. Compared with European shows such as Frankfurt and Paris, where domestic automakers have the biggest stands and are also the nearest to the entrance, Shanghai is more democratic, mixing domestic automakers and foreign manufacturers in the various halls.

An exception to the rule is the N5 hall where exotic brands from Bugatti to Spyker are grouped. Domestic automakers are not there because they have nothing to show yet.

Everything inside the pavilions is perfect because of the Chinese are so meticulous. Even the flowers are regularly watered and you have to watch your step as the floors are cleaned very often.

And when you move from inside a hall out into the open air, there is another surprise: The giant crates that were used to bring the materials to build and furnish the halls and stands are still visible. They are a reminder that an auto show is a temporary event.

What is not temporary, however, is China's position as the world's biggest automaker. China continues to grow faster than any other global region, thus strengthening further its importance to European, and global, automakers.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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