Apr 22 2014, 4:06am CDT | by Forbes
It’s been a sharp switch of focus from New York to Beijing for car lovers this week. The start of the Beijing Auto Show 2014 over the Easter weekend saw hordes of the motoring press descend upon the venue on Sunday before the public take over the event that runs through April 29.
Without any particular shiny new highlights expected from this year’s show, there’s still been a slew of announcements and unveilings of new cars from automakers. Elon Musk, disappointingly, didn’t attend the opening ceremony in spite of reports to the contrary in the Chinese media. But expectations still linger for the chance to see Tesla’s Model S soon running on the roads in China. In a bid to arouse even more attention, Hyundai managed to get the Korean pop star Kim Soo-hyun to make a very brief and very late appearance at the show.
Tweets emanating from the festivities have featured the likes of Peugeot, Volkswagen, BMW, Citroen, Hyundai, Kia, Audi, Lexus, Jeep and many others. Mercedes-Benz even arranged to livestream its press conference. And there was, of course, some exclusive news, too. For instance, the comeback of the Ford Escort which will only be available for sale in the Chinese market.
Beset with underwhelming marketing and technology, again, Chinese-branded cars are a bit out of focus this year. Courtesy of a friend attending the show, I’ve managed to obtain a few photos of some Chinese autos that aren’t often seen but certainly worthy of attention.
BYD’s e6 – one of the car models populating the taxi fleets in Shenzhen, the city next to Hong Kong. No one can forget about Warren Buffett’s bet on the Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD, although many still wonder if the Oracle of Omaha has made the right choice. The e6 is a pure electric car selling at the low price range of 300,000 to 400,000 yuan. Will it be a direct rival of Tesla? It’s hard to say for now, but that day would come a lot sooner if BYD could fulfill its promise to mass produce the e6 and sell it to overseas markets.
Some people do tell me that drivers of the e6 in are pretty happy with the car’s performance. But charging stations are not easily found in China. Technology-wise, producing a stable battery for every pure electric car is the key. Many Chinese still harbor reservations about new technology cars and all the troubles and inconvenience they can bring. In other words, there’s still a lack of momentum for the mass market in China to switch from petrol cars to pure electric.
Hongqi H7 – In fact, Hongqi is the brand owned by First Auto Work Group in north-eastern China since the 1950s. First Auto Work Group is the oldest carmaker in China. If you’re a frequent business traveler to Beijing, you may have had a chance to hop on a taxi that’s not from Volkswagen or Peugeot. Instead, you’ll find that you are sitting in a Chinese-branded cab. In the past, most of the taxis in China were made by Volkswagen with its joint-venture partners of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and First Auto Work. Some taxis in Central China are made by Peugeot and Dongfeng Motor. The Chinese government has tried many times to bolster demand for Chinese-branded cars, although success is still proving to be elusive.
Speaking of Taxis, Geely Automobile Group’s Chairman Li Shufu was the center of attention last year when he bought out the UK’s Manganese Bronze, made famous by its pricey London iconic Black Cab. A few Black Cabs are certainly up and running now in Beijing, but it’s not yet a popular choice. Regardless of whether imported technology from abroad or a domestically produced Chinese brands can grab the lead for now, it’s clear that more competition is on the horizon.
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