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Seven takeaways from Auto Shanghai 2019

Auto Shanghai 2019, or the 18th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, concluded on April 25 after a 10-day run.

The biennial show, the largest of its kind in the world, attracted 993,000 visitors who got to see nearly 1,500 vehicles on display including 129 global debuts, 218 new energy vehicles, and 76 concept vehicles, according to show organizers. A total of 11,600 reporters covered the media days held on April 16-17 when a total of 136 press conferences were held.

As one of those 11,600 members of the press, I had a chance to walk the show on those two days as well as part of the first trade day on April 18 and again on April 24. After nearly a combined 60,000 steps over those four days, I still wasn’t able to see all the stands. Nothing comes close as far as the sheer size of the show, thanks to the flower-shaped National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), which used up all of its 360,000 square meters of exhibition space.

The fact that there are so many brands on the Chinese market (including nearly a dozen Chinese smart EV startup brands that showed up), auto shows remain an important medium for OEMs and dealers to access Chinese consumers, who in turn get to see everything under one roof (like a supermarket) and that it’s home court advantage for global tier-1 suppliers (many of whom have their China or Asia Pacific headquarters based in Shanghai) are other reasons making Auto Shanghai the largest auto show in the world.

From seeing and hearing what were presented at press conferences and through countless interactions with CEOs, PR managers, technical personnel and fellow media members at the show, the following are my seven takeaways from the show:

First, the traditional foreign automakers brought their localized new energy vehicle offensive to the show. Every one of them had at least one locally-produced NEV on display: the Volkswagen e-Lavida, the Buick Velite 6, the Renault City K-ZE, the Hyundai Encino EV, the Toyota C-HR/IZOA EVs, just to name a few. Volkswagen Group alone announced that more than half of the 22 million battery electric vehicles it plans to deliver worldwide over the next decade will come from China.

Second, the top Chinese traditional automakers took it up a notch in terms of design, perceptive quality and craftsmanship with the debut of such vehicles as Geely Preface, BYD E-SEED GT, GAC NE AION LX, Haval Vision 2025, among others, that even outshined and their foreign counterparts in some way and widening the gap with second-tier Chinese brands.

Third, Chinese smart EV startups exhibited a wide array of sports coupes such as the NIO ET, Xpeng P7 and Enovate ME-S. Some debuted their second or even third vehicles in concept form despite the fact that the first vehicle hasn’t vent launched to market yet. There seems to be a masquerade covering troubles brewing underneath as they face severe growing pains.

Fourth, the global tier-1 suppliers are fully embracing the “In China, for the world” motto with many of the products and technologies on display having been developed by their local R&D team, to be applied to the local market earlier than elsewhere in the world. They are becoming more and more Chinese, so to say.  

Fifth, the Chinese autonomous driving tech startups at the “mini CES” show area in Hall 3 displayed some pretty advanced products as they race with the more traditional and bigger incumbent players to launch these products faster to market and at a cheaper cost.

Sixth, Huawei officially announced its entry into the auto industry with Rotating Chairman Eric Xu declaring at the show that the leading global information and communications technologies (ICT) solutions provider won’t make cars, but will help make cars better. The company is already working with leading Chinese and foreign automakers and signed more strategic cooperation deals with new partners. “The ICT is not coming to cars, the cars are coming to ICT,” Xu was quoted as saying.

Seventh, suppliers like Bosch, Garrett and ElringKlinger are upping their game in the fuel cell vehicle space with the showcase of key critical components like fuel nozzles, electric air compressors and fuel cell stacks. Bosch and ElringKlinger, for example, are setting up fuel cell vehicle testing labs in China utilizing their technology expertise and beefing up local R&D efforts for components tailored to local market requirements. The scene from the movie “Inception” where the streets and building are folding is probably the best analogy to describe this year’s Shanghai Auto Show and what it reflected about the state of the industry: it is being turned upside down as we speak.

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