Auto China is a motor show writ large. It's perhaps stating the bleeding obvious but for the avoidance of doubt, the scale of the show, the number of brands and the sheer mass of visitors is something to behold.
Despite the number of international brands represented at this year's show in Beijing, and their desire to debut new international models, the focus is very much internal. Such is the growth of the Chinese automobile market and the latent desire to own a personal automobile that the vast majority of domestic brands represented at China Auto 2012 have no intention to export any time soon... In fact, very few even bother making English language information available.
Beijing boasts a population close to Australia's in total, thus there's no shortage of consumers to woo. And many are happily conspicuous with that consumption. Prestige brands adorn their necks and wrists and also the nine massive halls that comprised this year's event.
The show stands of established luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi might be slightly larger at the Frankfurt show, but the weighting of the demonstrations towards the premium end of the scale at Beijing more than makes up for any shortfall of display space. Top of the range models are crowded up against each other. The average dollars-per-car spent must be off the charts...
Prestige brands are hot and getting hotter in China -- no less so in the automotive world than the high-end fashion boutiques that crowd every intersection in the up-scale parts of Beijing.
Though long-wheelbase sedans are still the default choice -- BMW debuted a long-wheelbase 3 Series at Beijing this week and Audi showed an all-electric long-wheelbase A6L e-tron (long-wheelbase A4, A6 and Benz E-Class models are already on Chinese roads) -- the emerging fashion icon is the upscale SUV.
Taking centre stage as the star reveal of the show was the uppitiest-scale SUV of all, Lamborghini Urus. Aggressively styled and of a size that surprises (it's B-I-G!), judging by the dozens-deep admirers that surrounded the car, it is the vehicle that will launch a new SUV arms race. Not to mention a crowd of clones.
Bentley showed off its SUV concept -- which in the Chinese environment somehow didn't look quite so odd -- and Maserati had a closer-to-production version of Kubang. Sources promise it won't be called Kubang, however, and say it will be on sale by this time next year.
Jeep's Grand Cherokee SRT8 looked almost ho-hum in the company, while the Victoria Beckham edition of the Range Rover Evoque also launched at Beijing appeared to be distinctly lacking in obvious signs of plastic surgery.
But the established brands didn't have the SUV limelight all on their own. Rising above any need for celebrity endorsement, or 'attractive for a Chinese car' qualifier, was a concept compact crossover/SUV by Chery. Dubbed the TX, the sharply styled five-door is proof positive of the potential the Chinese brands. Shame we can't tell you anything about it...
We're not so convinced about SAIC's MG Icon concept, however. Sort of one-third MINI pastiche, one-third MGB revival and one-third crossover coupe, the concept car drew crowds but looked cobbled together. Not so the brands production cars, however. With models wearing both MG and Roewe badges, SAIC must surely be the most likely to succeed in other markets outside China in years to come.
There were acres of utilitarian small sedans to view at Beijing. Most with derivative styling -- think a cross between Holden Viva and Toyota Yaris sedan and you'll be pretty close. Essentially China is a three-box and MPV market, and hatches aren't popular.
Fiat unveiled the car it hopes will re-establish it in China: the Giuletta-based Viaggio sedan. Nissan's hopes are pinned on the unlikely named Sylphy -- think Pulsar sedan. Toyota too is trying to strengthen its four door credentials in China with a Corolla-sized sedan concept called Yundong Shuangqing.
Mercedes-Benz didn't bring the new A-Class five-door to Beijing but rather chose to display the concept version of the smallest sedan it will build. Sitting on A-Class architecture, the Concept Style Coupe will translate into a production CLA sooner than you think. And it's biggest expected market? China.
Brands like Cadillac are placing great hopes on growing a share of the Chinese market. GM's premium brand will build more cars there while Buick and Chevrolet too will seek to attract more Chinese buyers. Exactly which of the GM trio will benefit from Holden's announcement that it will design two new cars for China is unclear. A contingent of Holden designers were on the ground at Beijing but were even more tight-lipped than usual.
Based on this writer's very limited schooling on the Chinese marketplace -- and the mix of cars on the show floor -- I would bet against an attractively styled small sedan and a midsized SUV... There we are, back to stating the bleeding obvious...