The Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition kicked off on Monday in China’s financial hub, a multiday event aimed at showcasing the best and brightest car innovations in the world’s biggest vehicle market.
Electric cars and intelligent-driving technology were a major theme, with everyone from startups to the most venerable automakers -- and a new cabal of tech players, including Chinese telco giant Huawei Technologies Co. -- plowing money into cleaner transport.
In a day full of highlights perhaps two stood out. The moment when Nio Inc. CEO William Li and Xpeng Inc. CEO He Xiaopeng, two leading lights of China’s EV onslaught, staged a very public walk around of each other’s booths, attracting scores of onlookers who whipped out their mobile phones to record the moment.
At one point, Li crouched down on his haunches to check out the undercarriage of Xpeng’s P5 sedan, which is coming out later this year. Li also listened carefully to He’s introduction of Xpeng’s model flying car and asked for details about some of the components used.
Earlier in the day there was a ruckus of a very different sort when a woman protesting the technology used in Tesla Inc.’s cars leapt atop one of its models. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Chinese writing that said “Brake Lost Control,” she batted away open umbrellas used by security guards to try conceal her message before eventually being escorted down from the vehicle’s roof.
That the show is even being held, in all its physical glory, is also unique. While many other countries are in the grips of worsening coronavirus outbreaks, China has largely managed to contain COVID, meaning big events such as this one are possible.
Nio, Xpeng CEOs exude optimism
Li and He were on form respectively as well, saying in separate interviews that they’re optimistic about the outlook for China’s EV market and confident of maintaining sales momentum from the first quarter.
Li, talking to Bloomberg Television, said March was a “milestone for China’s smart EV market as it was the first time EVs accounted for more than 10 percent of new car sales.”
“More and more individual users are buying EVs, and I think this is a very good start. I’m very optimistic about the market this year, including the second half,” he said.
Xpeng’s He meanwhile predicted the market would enter a rapid expansion phase in 2023 with more mid-priced EVs required. The EV upstart, which like Nio is listed in the U.S., will be aided by the introduction of its P5 family sedan later in 2021, he said.
VW eyes Tesla in China
Volkswagen’s China CEO Stephan Wollenstein reckons it may take two or three years but eventually, the automaker will pull ahead of Tesla in terms of EV sales in Asia’s biggest economy.
The venerable European carmaker, which has a number of joint ventures in China including with SAIC Motor Corp., China FAW Group Co. and Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Corp., currently has a share of the NEV market in the single digits but sees that increasing to beyond 10 percent as early as this year, Wollenstein said.
Great Wall sees off-road sales growth
Great Wall Motor Co. says its total off-road vehicle sales could reach 500,000 by 2025 after spinning off its Tank SUV brand and channeling more resources into the segment. China’s top SUV maker has invested 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) over the past five years in a platform for developing off-road vehicles, the company said Monday at the Shanghai Auto Show.
Porsche customers are younger, female
Porsche is looking toward another record year in China as the nation’s upwardly mobile and cash rich population embraces sports cars, the company’s China CEO Jens Puttfarcken said in a Bloomberg Television interview.
The luxury automaker delivered around 90,000 cars in China last year and we “definitely think we can have another record year” in 2021, maybe selling around 100,000 units, Puttfarcken said, adding that Porsche’s customer base in China skews younger, female and more tech-savvy than elsewhere.
Puttfarcken said that demand for two-door cars in China was picking up as the company helps to cultivate a sports-car culture. Sales of the larger Porsche Taycan are also strong, with both the high-end model and entry-level two-wheel drive model now available. Some 75 percent of Taycan customers in China are new to the brand, he said.
BMW’s ‘continuous boom’
BMW Group is off to a strong start to 2021, China CEO Jochen Goller said, with 229,000 BMWs and Minis delivered in the first quarter. That’s after sales rose 8 percent last year. And he’s a long-term bull, saying that with the rise of China’s affluent middle-class, the auto market will “continuously boom.”
The construction of a manufacturing plant with joint-venture partner Great Wall Motor Co. is ‘well under way,” Goller said, and the main structure should be completed later this year. Production of two Mini EVs for the Chinese and global markets will start in 2023, he said.
Inside Auto Shanghai 2021
While rival Daimler has decided to make its small-car brand Smart a China-only brand, that won’t be the case with Mini, Goller said. “Mini will always be a global brand for the global market.”
Polestar warns of investor ‘playground’
As billions of dollars pour into EV startups, Polestar Holding CEO Thomas Ingenlath warned the industry shouldn’t become an “investors playground.”
The “electric revolution is important,” the head of the Swedish EV maker said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We have to make something really important here, we should be really careful this is not only looked upon as an investors playground. Yes, funding is important, but it has to relate to real creative value to companies that produce cars.”
Polestar last week raised $550 million from new investors to help fund its growth. It’s the first time external investors have backed the company, according to Polestar, which said it’s in talks with global investors about possible additional fundraising
Tesla low key
The world’s biggest maker of electric cars dominates China’s auto scene but typically doesn’t have a large presence at the country’s major auto shows. This year was no exception, with Tesla sporting an understated booth.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company only had four models on display, all made in China at its gigafactory in Shanghai -- the Model 3 standard and Model 3 high performance, along with the Model Y long-range and Model Y high performance. It’s the first time the China-made Model Ys have been seen at an auto show.
Tesla started delivery of the Model Y cars in China in January and they’re proving a hit. The car can run for almost 600 kilometers (373 miles) on one charge. Some 10,140 China-made Model Ys were registered in March, double February’s figures.
Slightly ruffling Tesla’s too cool for school approach was a protester who jumped on one of its cars, yelling “Tesla brake lost control” before being dragged off by security and escorted away.