Highlights of the Beijing Motor Show 2008. In changing times for the Chinese automotive industry signs of eco awareness were sprouting around the show this year. Although most of the efforts were skin deep one gets a sense that the Chinese are playing catchup to the rest of the world's sustainability efforts but will one day surely surpass them - the buzz was confidence and independence.
Buick’s LaCrosse Eco-Hybrid was the only green vehicle at the show that we can say with 100% certainty that the technology advertised on the outside was physically functional on the inside. The only reason this is possible is because although the car is made in China by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), GM’s Chinese automotive partner. Available later on this year the LaCrosse is part of GM ‘Drive to Green’ strategy laid out earlier this year. In an effort to charge ahead and conquer, Buick will be the first carmaker in China to have an integrated mainstream hybrid car in the mid-luxury segment. While Toyota and Honda have been struggling to sell their Hybrid Priuses and Civics that achieve much better mileage than the LaCrosse Buick, Buick sales might be in for a pleasant surprise.
China’s poor air quality has been greatly publicized due to the upcoming Olympics and if Shanghai GM can manage to ride that wave and push the LaCrosse as ‘the politically correct’ car to buy they might win the jackpot. Prius and Civic are overpriced for their target market and the LaCrosse has that American nostalgic touch that the older wealthier Chinese generations yearn for, which explains why the Buick brand is still alive! GM’s CEO Rick Wagner told us that Buick sells more cars in China than in the US by far, that’s why they chose to debut their Buick Invicta concept at the Beijing Auto Show this year. The LaCrosse Eco-Hybrid only does 4 miles per gallon better mileage than the current model, but they hope to quickly replace this with a newer model that will be 50% more fuel-efficient. The E-Flex drive powertrain and Fuel Cell E-Flex will shortly be following suit with target date aimed at 2010/11.
Concept BYD e6
The really special story behind all the fantastic names and flamboyant stickers happily slapped on to show cars at the Beijing Auto Show 2008 is that some of these companies already make the technology that goes into the cars of the future. If you were the number 1 battery selling company in China you’d think that you would have a considerable advantage over your competitors to lead the market in electric cars. Voilá! BYD (Build Your Dreams) Auto is a subsidiary of China’s BYD Group, the leading provider of NiCd batteries, about 65% worldwide, and Lithium-ion cell batteries, about 30% worldwide. The battery side of the company has been around since 2003 and the automotive for the past 5 years! This puts in perspective what this small but powerful company may possibly achieve in the next few years. And if you would have seen their show cars 5 years ago, as we did, you would have thought they didn’t stand a chance. But take a look at the e6, it is not an outstanding achievement in design but it does its job professionally and if BYD manages to get this 5 seater on the road with the specs that thankfully were displayed in English, Mileage over 300km, Max Speed 140-185km/hour, and can quick charge in 15 min to 80%SOC they could corner the market. “New Energy, New Power, New Concept", new, new, new! The design isn’t anything new, mix up a few Hondas and you have your e6, but if they can deliver 0 emissions at the same price range, or lower, than their competitors then they will be laughing to the bank; the race to build the most eco-friendly car at the lowest cost is the name of the game, design will come later. This is what dreams are made of - money!
Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co (BAIC) launched their 1950’s revived brand ‘Beijing’ at the show with sparkling confetti, a full brass band, and the de rigeur government officials. The only carmaker with headquarters in Beijing, in the north, has brought back the brand to bring a new energy to their fleet and define their own identity. In fact the large logo that adorned all 6 concepts was visually based on the Chinese character for north. 3 of these concepts were glorified sedans, while the others were 2 SUVs and one Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) SUV. Of course our interest was caught by the digital camouflage but quickly we noticed that the paint job was basic and the word Hybrid was a do-it-yourself sticker. Like many other supposedly green concepts at the show the intentions were merely skin-deep. Ask to look under the hood for technological evidence and they will pretend to ignore you even if you have a translator! But there is hope for BAIC because as the logo on the front of the Hybrid says, BATC, this concept was designed and developed at BAIC’s Beijing Automotive Technology Center where Wei Shan is the Director of Design. With the help of flashy Art Center grad Edward Wong’s international experience and a team of 200 engineers and designers Shan aims to promote Chinese based design and encourage the technology to catch up. So, even though the sticker may be a cheat for now it does indicate a positive future.
Concept ChangAn - Qing Cheng
The Qing Cheng, literally translated means ‘Green City’, was ChangAn, a.k.a Chana’s research into future alternative fuels for the China market. Although we got a lengthy explanation (a rare thing at Chinese Auto Shows) about how their Hybrid engine will work in the soon to be launched Joy, Jiexuan, MPV and pointing out a syntax error we couldn’t find out what the intriguing Qing Cheng was all about. Aesthetically it was a fun way of showing off what we gathered to be a hydrogen powered concept car based loosely on a similar outfit to BMW’s Hydrogen Powered cars. That aside the concept did give you a feeling of what it would be like to drive water. The fluid lines that flowed from front to back, with a natural dip in between mixed up with the transparency of the vehicle gave us a well deserved visual break from what proved to be a bland show.
The interior was the most rewarding of all. No other vehicle in the show had anything as funky or futuristic as the Qing Cheng; highlighting the fact was that there was almost no access to interiors at the show and even the supposed star of the show, the Geely GT ‘Tiger’ concept, was a hard model. This interior stimulated the imagination, what if those lovely seats were made of gel and molded to your body? What if I could see the water running through the centre console or there were sensors that would move the forms around the driver instinctively adapting to his/her driving position? This little apparently insignificant show car designed and made in China was tucked away out of sight and apparently out of mind, such a shame!
Concept Chery Faira Lineup
‘BeiBei’, ‘JingJing’, ‘HunaHuan’, ‘YingYing’, ‘NiNi’, the five Olympic mascots when put together mean Beijing HuanYingNi, ‘Beijing Welcomes You’. This was the inspiration behind Chery’s mini fleet of city movers - 5 main characters, 7 variations, designed by Torino Design headed by ex-Bertone’s Roberto Piatti. None of them sport any new green technology but simply because they are lightweight and small they achieve good fuel efficiency in the urban landscape. What they do signal, however, is a strong change in design preferences by the Chinese. Once a very conservative market where the 3-box package was the rule of thumb but now the Chinese are into smaller hatchback ‘bottomless’ cars. This is due in large part to women gaining purchasing power be it as an independent worker or a partner in the household. While bikes have been relegated to the elderly and poorer classes the middle class lady is rapidly becoming a leader and trendsetter in Chinese society. Much like the Japanese and Korean young women of ten years ago, they are independent, boss men around, and marry much later in life.
The Faira Five Olympic stars are all based on shared components inside and out, yet each have a distinct friendly animal ‘face’ adding to their emotional, and perhaps female, appeal. The Faira BB (BeiBei) a blue 2 seater has the shortest wheelbase at just over 2m, Faira JJ (JingJing) in white is a perky mini SUV, the Faira HH (HuanHuan) in red is a quirky old-school sedan, the Faira YY (YingYing) in yellow comes in 2-door and fun cabrio versions, and the Faira NN (NiNi) in green comes in 3 and 5 doors versions. This range goes to show what a clear concept and the modular use of components can achieve. The reduction in parts manufacturing also generates less waste while catering to a large gamma of clients.
Concept Chery Pininfarina
Since the early days Chery has always had an international plan of attack. They were always open to comments, suggestions, and consulting offered up by foreigners, mainly Italians. While their Faira fabulous 5 were twirling around brightly coloured the demure silver group of alternative fueled cars stood poised. Following in the likes of Audi and Mercedes, all the cars were silver but awkwardly they each had a different eco-efficient technology inside. One labeled as B.S.G. we found out was an acronym for Belt Starter Generator, another had I.S.G, Integrated Starter Generator, a third had F.F.V. written on it for Flexible Fuel Vehicle, and yet another had Disel written on it, which we take as a spelling mistake and interpret it as Diesel. There were no explanations as to what this all meant in terms of a corporate environmental standpoint, or plan, and once again, upon requesting to see the technology inside, they blatantly told us that they were just stickers! I guess Chery was trying on some alternative fuels on for size to see what would stick. But seriously, they had the Pininfarina logo proudly displayed so the design must be good, well at least it was recycled! For China standards the ‘two-box’ and ‘three-box’ designs were well packaged, the sculptured features nice but too dejavu, and quality acceptable but by Italian standards they were a far cry from European car designs. They were clearly designed a long time ago, meant for quick production, and the books were closed. In a society that is as fast-paced as China Chery is better off sticking to their Faira concept than trying to make a new green product out of something that's not.
Concept Great Wall Electric
Great Wall Motors is China’s leader in the productions of light pickups and utility vehicles. At this year’s Beijing Auto Show they debuted the tiniest of two-seaters on the largest of stages! All the same it's cute character and lively attitude won the heart of each visitor. This little bug looking Electric Vehicle (EV) called GW Kulla, ‘Ola’, is packed with a Lithium-ion battery with a charging time of 5-6 hours, a range of 140km on one charge, and a top speed of 65km/hr. Apparently they aim to launch this little gem in 2010 but ask to see the power chord and you will be sorely disappointed. As many other green cars posing at the show the Kulla was no exception…well actually it was, it has a proper paint job, no sticker (but no power chord either!). There was an interior visible with a Panda stuffed bear inside but we weren’t allowed inside, again. The feeling of the little city runner is a cross between a Smart and the front cabin of a light truck, cute but precarious. Just beside on GW’s Peri electric version (the non-green version is already on the market) an actual plug pointed to where one would normally fill the tank with gas, and the fluttering ladybirds reassure you of the car’s eco-friendliness. Mostly the frilly and fluffy days of the 2003 Beijing Auto Show are gone by now but this little number brings back a nostalgic nod.
Concept Geely FC-E
Geely is a rare type of Chinese automotive company in that it is privately owned, it is listed on the stock exchange in Hong Kong, and it is entirely Chinese, they have no foreign partners. This makes them a very interesting company to watch because they can set their own agendas, push ahead in the competitive global market, and do research and development in what they believe is the future. Despite poor lighting and un-informed personnel there were a few cars that pointed us to discover their ‘New Energy Strategy’. They have developed a technology that they claim is unique to Geely called EEBS, Electronic Equation Balance System (a kind of advanced hybrid power system), which they showcased in their Geely FC-E concept. The information panel reads as follows:
“This innovative technology invented by Geely introduces electrical power system into the traditional combustion engine design. The function of the system is that electrical energy produces a cushioning effect on fluctuation in the engine operating status to achieve a perfect balance, the greater fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions. Compared with existing Hybrid power technologies, EEBS replaces the traditional transmission mechanism through advanced electrical drive control technology; without a gear shift lever and a clutch pedal in the cockpit, we open up a much larger space and reduce the weight of the vehicle significantly.”
They are obviously talking about a drive-by-wire Hybrid configuration unless there is something really innovative that we missed. The actual show car wasn’t much of a design statement, the little of which you could see because the stand was so poorly lit. But, unlike some other rivaling cars, the EEBS FC-E concept had a cut-out in the hood and trunk showing off the technology inside. The interior was well thought through, from the little that we could see, and the design of the driving wheel emphasizes the drive-by-wire theory.