|by CRI biz reporter Luo Dan
China's annual automotive extravaganza, Auto China 2012, wraps up Wednesday in Beijing, with a record number of 800,000 visitors from home and abroad.
During the 10-day auto show in Beijing, Yang Xueliang has been as busy as a bee, participating in more than 10 media interviews nearly every day. He is the public relations director of the privately owned Chinese carmaker Geely.
The Zhejiang-based automaker in East China was largely unknown to the international media until it purchased Swedish premium car brand Volvo in 2010. The company's own products include the Gleagle series for youngsters and Emgrand series of sedans for middle- and high-income professionals.
Yang Xueliang says Geely has set up overseas sales outlets in about 50 countries and regions, including Russia, Ukraine, Cuba, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. This is why the company's exhibition stand has attracted many foreign reporters.
A model stands beside a 'B11' car by Chinese manufacturer Hawtai Motors, at the Auto China 2012 car show in Beijing. [Photo: AFP]
"Our Emgrand EC7 is popular in the overseas market. This morning I was interviewed by more than 10 Ukrainian media outlets. Our annual sales volume in the country is about 8,000 vehicles. I believe when our latest and more competitive products are introduced, our international sales performance will be ever better."
Yang says the company developed its latest vehicle, the Gleagle GX7 SUV, after it achieved a four-star rating in the Euro-New Car Assessment Program (Euro-NCAP) last November. Euro-NCAP is an authoritative car safety standard in Europe, and Geely's performance is so far the best by a Chinese car.
Yang believes the SUV's safety, together with its advanced powertrain, has been one of the highlights for visitors at the auto show.
"The GX7 is based on the safety test of Euro-NCAP and its Chinese equivalent. It is spacious and equipped with seven airbags, plus protective measures for pedestrians. There are three types of engines for buyers to choose from--namely, 1.8, 2.0 and 2.4 liters--paired with an automatic six-speed transmission. The gearbox has been adjusted by a Dutch company."
In the past few years, some foreign media have criticized China's homegrown automakers as copycats, which has negatively affected their brand reputation and quality recognition. Lennart Stegland is a senior executive at Volvo Car Corporation. He believes the Scandinavian company could do something, for example, in car design to help its Chinese partner.
"I think there will be areas for cooperation that will be clearly defined between the two companies, where there is a win-win for both. I think one statement is also clear that our former senior vice president for design, Peter Horbury, is now working very much within the Geely context to look into the design possibilities that could be possibly developed with Geely."
Southern Chinese carmaker BYD's all-electric vehicle brand, Denza, has been another magnet for journalists covering the auto show. Although it is displayed in the same exhibition hall along with luxury brands such as Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls Royce, Denza has managed to be a standout.
The 4.6-meter-long car features an ambient light system, lounge-like interior, wood and copper detailing, and rear-hinged rear doors. More importantly, it has been jointly developed by German auto giant Daimler and Chinese partner BYD.
Lian Yubo is the CEO of Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology. He says Denza aims to blend cutting-edge green technology with outstanding mobility solutions.
"Denza will try to define a new level of sophistication in the Chinese new energy vehicle segment. BYD is providing its expertise in battery technology and e-drive systems as well as its experience in putting electric vehicles on the roads of China. Daimler is contributing more than 125 years of excellence in automotive design and know-how in vehicle architecture, safety and quality. In short, we are trying to develop a high-end electric car brand."
At present, new energy cars, either electric or hybrid, are still trying to win over Chinese consumers. In 2011, auto sales in China totaled about 18 million vehicles, but only about 10,000 of them were green vehicles. But Lian says the situation is improving, thanks to China's latest preferential policy for eco-friendly cars plus record high gas prices that are now more than 8 yuan per liter.
"In the city of Shenzhen, at the very beginning, taxi drivers were reluctant to drive electric cars out of concern about recharging inconveniences and the battery's ability to sustain power. However, now electric taxis are popular among drivers because they can save several dozen yuan for every 100 kilometers they are driven. So if the taxi drivers drive 300 to 400 kilometers per day, their profit will increase. So I believe, in the future, when the manufacturing cost is lower, eco-friendly cars will have a much better market performance even without government incentives or subsidies."
Auto China 2012 runs from April 23rd to May 2nd. More than 1,100 cars, including 120 new models, are on display at the show. Among the new models, about 80 have been produced by domestic automakers.