While big auto shows have been put on indefinite hold in the U.S., Europe and much of the rest of the world due to the coronavirus, the industry got back to a sense of normal in China this week with the media days opener at the Shanghai Auto Show.
Reflecting the size of what is now the world’s largest automotive market, the event brought out scores of new and substantially updated products from both domestic Chinese brands, as well as from the foreign-owned marques still dominating the market.
As has become the case worldwide, there is a heavy emphasis on electrified vehicles in Shanghai, from conventional hybrids to pure battery-electric vehicles. But there are plenty of conventionally powered models. And one Chinese automaker even launched an all-new off-road SUV sub-brand.
Plenty of offerings at the show
Here’s a roundup of some of the most important product announcements from the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show:
Audi. The German luxury brand is a big player in the Chinese market and Audi hopes to gain even more ground with a mix of new and updated models. One of its most significant introductions in Shanghai is the A6 e-tron concept. While just a show car, for now, a production version of this low-slung battery sedan is in the works. It will help Audi meet China’s tough New Energy Vehicle mandate calling for 25% of sales to use plug-in or all-electric drive by 2025. The automaker also revealed the new Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron, as well as a stretched version of the familiar Audi A7 fastback.
BMW. One of the worst-kept secrets in Shanghai was the “surprise” debut of the production version of the BMW iX. With its controversial take on the brand’s familiar double-kidney grille, the iX will serve as the flagship of BMW’s rapidly expanding line-up of battery-electric vehicles. Set to go on sale in China, North America and Europe next year, the iX uses a new modular architecture that will underpin a broad range of BMW BEVs. The automaker says it will deliver “more than” 500 horsepower and hit 60 in less than 5 seconds in its top trim using the new eDrive technology.
Buick. Buick was one of the very earliest foreign entries into the Chinese market and remains a major player. It has several new models making their debuts on the Shanghai show floor this year, starting with the Envision Plus. It’s an extended version of the small Envision SUV — gaining 7 inches in length and 2 inches in height — that Buick already exports to the U.S. No word if the Plus will reach North America, as well. Also new, the Verano Pro is a “premium family sedan” aimed at younger Chinese buyers. It features a relatively conventional exterior paired with a decidedly high-tech cabin.
Cadillac. Parent General Motors says it wants to halt production of gas and diesel vehicles by 2035. The U.S. luxury brand aims to reach that target five years earlier — and the Lyriq will be the first step in the process. A prototype was unveiled online last August. It will hold a place on the Shanghai stand until later this week when Cadillac plans to reveal the actual production version of the all-electric SUV. The midsize Lyriq will use GM’s new Ultium batteries and electric vehicle architecture that will be shared with a broad range of other, upcoming BEVs.
Citroen. The French automaker is billing its new C5 X as something of a Swiss Army knife, claiming it “combines the best attributes of a sedan, a station wagon and an SUV.” The vehicle will be offered both in gas and plug-in hybrid forms, the last helping the automaker meet strict new Chinese electrification mandates. The C5 X and C5 X Hybrid will be produced solely at a joint venture plant in Chengdu operated by parent Stellantis and Chinese partner Dongfeng for export to Europe and other markets.
Ford. There’s plenty of buzz about a potential crossover that could bring back the Fusion badge, which Ford abandoned when it dropped its passenger car line-up in the States. While that plan has yet to be confirmed, the automaker did reveal the new Evos in Shanghai, a sporty, coupe-like crossover that is widely expected to find a place in Europe and North America, as well as in China. The five-door could replace the European Mondeo sedan and, speculation suggests, might push aside the stodgy Edge crossover in the U.S. and Canada. Ford also debuted the new Equator, a more conventional SUV.
Geely. The fast-growing domestic Chinese brand has launched an entirely new, all-electric sub-brand, Zeekr. It gets off the ground with a midsize station wagon called the Zeekr 001, which delivers an estimated 435 miles per charge. The underpinnings will be shared with some of the other Geely brands, including Lynk & Co. and Volvo. Geely plans to back up its push into electric propulsion by setting up a network of 2,200 fast-charge stations across China. Geely also debuted an assortment of its own new and updated models, such as the GS and Xingyue L.
Genesis. Hyundai’s spinoff luxury brand is rapidly expanding its line-up and is set to deliver its first battery-electric model, the G80 Electrified. The BEV shares the basic design of the conventionally powered G80 but manages to squeeze in enough batteries to deliver 500 km, or around 310 miles, of range, Genesis claims. It will launch in China but details of a North American launch will be released later this year. The Korean carmaker hints that “additional EV models” are in development.
Great Wall. The ambitious Chinese domestic automaker covered a number of bases during its Shanghai news conference. The Ora Lightning Cat concept hints at an upcoming all-electric sports sedan. The design seems to draw inspiration from both Porsche and Tesla, the latter with the notable lack of any sort of grille. Twin Motors will help the Cat hit 60 in barely 3.5 seconds, the automaker said. Great Wall also announced a new sub-brand, Tank, to produce serious off-road SUVs.
Honda. The Japanese automaker has two new models in Shanghai, starting with the SUV E:Prototype. Looking a fair bit like the current Honda Fit, it’s a small, all-electric SUV that is widely expected to return in production form in China next year. Honda isn’t saying much, so it’s unclear if the E:Prototype uses a more modern skateboard platform or squeezes batteries into what would basically be an electrified version of the Fit. Also on display, the Breeze plug-in hybrid.
Hyundai Motor Group. The world’s fifth-largest automaker held a combined news conference focusing on its ambitious electrification plans. This covered three different brands, Hyundai, Kia and Genesis. (See the Genesis news, above.) Among the highlights: the Chinese debut of the Ioniq 5, the first of what’s to become a sub-brand and family of Hyundai battery-electric vehicles. For its part, Kia showed off the EV6, the first in what will be its own family of BEVs. Kia said it plans to launch a new all-electric model every year in China, aiming for eight by 2030.
Lexus. Toyota’s luxury division introduced a midcycle update of its popular ES sedan. The refresh brings some significant tweaks, though they largely focus on the cabin, as well as the ES sedan’s performance. The interior “seat-in-control” concept brings all switches and controls within easy reach of the driver, among other things moving the infotainment screen outward by four inches. The Lexus Safety Sense driver assistance technology gets an upgrade and the ES 350 F Sport adds a new Dynamic Handling Package for 2022.
Maserati. The Italian automaker brings out its first BEV, the new Gran Turismo next year. But it’s now launching its second hybrid, a version of the big Maserati Levante. The SUV uses an electric drive system paired with a 2.0-liter inline-4 gas engine. Capable of pushing it to 240 kmh, or 150 mph. Maserati dashed expectations of a plug-in hybrid, officials claiming the added mass would have cost too much performance. The new Grecale SUV coming later this year also will offer hybrid technology. Maserati expects all models will offer some form of electrified option by 2025.
Mercedes-Benz. The German automaker brought two new battery-electric vehicles to Shanghai, including the EQS, the battery-powered alternative to its familiar S-Class flagship, which got an early, online preview. It introduces the new, one-bow design concept that will shape future BEVs. The EQB, however, gets a more conventional SUV look, albeit with distinctive design cues like its sealed grille and distinctive fiber-optic light bar. The EQB will be offered in both two- and three-row packages and will roll out worldwide. Alongside the two BEVs, Mercedes also revealed a stretched version of its C-Class sedan.
MG. The British brand — now Chinese-owned — returns to its sports car roots with the debut of the Cyberster concept. Decidedly not retro, the all-electric two seater was designed at MG’s Advanced Design Center in London and packs a wallop, both visually and in terms of performance. The Cyberster reportedly can deliver 800 km, or about 500 miles, per charge, and it will launch from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds. There are no plans to revive the brand in the U.S. market.
Nissan. The second-largest Japanese automaker debuted the new X-Trail SUV, which is largely a Chinese take on the latest-generation Nissan Rogue that was introduced in North America last year. It’s also known as the Qashqai in Europe. But …there is some big news, nonetheless. It will feature Nissan’s new e-Power plug-in hybrid drivetrain technology. Electric motors drive the X-Trail’s wheels. But the drivetrain can supplement a modest-sized battery pack with power generated by a 1.5-liter turbo-4 gas engine using Nissan’s variable compression technology.
Toyota. The Japanese giant has been slow to embrace all-electric propulsion, preferring to focus on its familiar hybrids and newer Prius plug-in hybrids. But, with more and more markets going all-electric — China setting a high target for 2025, Toyota is entering the fray and revealed in Shanghai it is working up 15 BEVs. Seven of those will be part of the new “Beyond Zero” line. The first will be the bZ4X, a concept version of which made its debut at the Shanghai show. The production model will follow in short order, though Toyota isn’t revealing global rollout details yet.
Volkswagen. The German automaker is a powerhouse in the Chinese market and wants to retain its position — which means it needs to be a big player in the growing BEV segment. So, Shanghai sees the debut of the new ID.6. With three rows, and seating for up to seven, it’s the largest battery-electric vehicle VW has yet introduced, though it shares the same, underlying MEB architecture as Europe’s ID.3 hatchback and the ID.4 SUV just going on sale in the U.S. Two versions will be available: the ID.6 Crozz, closer to the original ID.Crozz concept crossover, and the ID.6 X.