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The motor show is dying. Even before the global pandemic shut down these events for several years, the spark had gone out as car makers invested less and less in these once extravagant expos.
At least that’s the case for everywhere in the world except China. The 2023 Shanghai Motor Show opened this week and was filled with elaborate displays from most of the world’s biggest car brands and the numerous successful Chinese brands yet to make their mark in Australia.
While we’ve already written extensively about the success of the likes of MG, Haval and LDV in the Australian market, we’ve only begun to see the massive potential of the rapidly expanding Chinese car industry.
Like it or not, the Chinese car industry has become a major player both as a producer and consumer of new vehicles. In 2022, the Chinese people bought more than 22 million new cars, and those kinds of numbers attract the attention of every brand.
So, it was no surprise to see some of the world’s biggest brand’s use the Shanghai show as the launch pad for some important new vehicles. BMW launched both the i7 M70 and XM Red Label; Porsche showed off the updated Cayenne range; Volkswagen debuted the ID.7; Lexus unveiled the LM people-mover; Mini had its new Aceman on display; Hyundai’s new-look i30 Sedan broke cover; and Nissan produced not one, but three concepts for Shanghai - the Max-Out, Arizon and a futuristic Pathfinder.
But that only scratches the surfaces of what was on show in Shanghai, with countless cars from brands both familiar - MG, BYD and Chery - and emerging, including Nio, Lynk & Co, Maxus, Roewe, Rising Auto and XPeng (to name just a few).
Given the impact the likes of MG and GWM Haval had on the Australian market, it’s highly likely that other Chinese brands will follow their example and try their hand Down Under in the coming years. The Shanghai show gave us a glimpse at what’s to come in the near future from the Chinese car industry, and as we’re written previously, it’s very clear that the industry, as a whole, has been learning fast.
The Polestar 4 was one of the biggest reveals in Shanghai this week, and while the brand has Swedish heritage it’s also part of the Geely Group of brands. Geely is arguably the most proactive of the Chinese auto giants, investing in several brands (including Volvo, Lotus, Polestar, Smart, Lynk & Co) to spread its reach and cover a wide cross-section of the market.
A tactic that was clearly on display with the Smart #3 (Geely part-owns the brand with Mercedes-Benz), a city car offering that will appeal to a very different audience to what Polestar produces.
BYD is still in its infancy in Australia, offering the Atto 3 SUV as its sole model. But in China, it’s a giant, demonstrated at the Shanghai show with the Yangwang U9 - a dramatic-looking all-electric supercar that sits under the new Yangwang sub-brand.
BYD also used the show to reveal something at the other end of the spectrum, the Seagull - its city-sized hatchback that will slot beneath the Dolphin in its line-up. If this compact offering makes it to Australia, it could become the most affordable EV (based on its size) but still boasts a 405km driving range.
Perhaps even more telling about BYD’s place in the automotive pecking order was the reveal of the Toyota bZ3. The Japanese brand may be the biggest car maker in the world, but it has turned to BYD for help with this Chinese-market small car. The bZ3 is a Tesla Model 3 rival based on Toyota’s own e-TNGA platform but uses BYD’s ‘Blade’ lithium-iron-phosphate battery technology.
MG is unquestionably China’s biggest success story in the Australian market, with the brand firmly entrenched as a top 10 brand and set to expand in the near-future with the MG4 electric hatch and the MG5 small sedan. Then it will likely add a new element to its local arsenal - a sports car.
Shanghai saw the long-anticipated reveal of the long-rumoured MG Cyberster, a somewhat return to the brand’s original DNA when it was a British brand making compact roadsters, like the MGB. The all-electric Cyberster is a bigger, more powerful sports car that will (in theory) compete against the likes of the BMW Z4 and Porsche 718 Boxster. It demonstrates the resources at the brand’s disposal to enter what is ultimately a relatively small market space with an all-new model.
Regardless of exactly which cars make it to Australian showrooms and when, the Chinese car industry is clearly on the ascendancy.