BEIJING — China’s vision of the future of the automobile — electrified and digitally connected — is on display at the ongoing Beijing auto show.

Organizers say 117 new models are making their debut at Auto China 2024, which runs through May 4. They range from eye-poppingly cutting-edge to more subtle novelties.

One of the biggest mob scenes was for the opening day presentation by Xiaomi, a major Chinese maker of smartphones and trendy, affordable smart appliances aimed at younger generations that’s entering the car market for the first time.

Xiaomi announced that it had received more than 75,000 orders in the four weeks since the launch of its first car, the SU7, with a list price of $29,800-$41,400.

Why is a phone company making a car? Analysts say connectivity. Consumer technology companies want to connect the lives of their customers across all their devices — phones, laptops, televisions and now cars.

“It starts with the concept of the third place,” said Beatrix Keim, the China director at German auto research center CAR. “Because nowadays people are at the office, at home and then mainly they’re spending the time in the car.”

The approach works well in China, a highly digital society where e-payments are the norm and the convenience of connectivity trumps privacy concerns for most.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei has ventured into the car business too. Apple explored the idea but dropped it earlier this year.

THE CAR AS LIVING SPACE

Some Chinese makers are taking the idea of a third space to new heights.

Zeekr unveiled the Mix, an electric vehicle with an interior that can transform into a small room while parked. The front seats swivel to face the back ones, with a table in between that a company executive told the crowd could be used to play card games or enjoy a Chinese hot-pot meal.

Stefan Sielaff, the design director of Zeekr, described the Mix as “a nice experiment” focusing on younger families.

“I wouldn’t even call it a car or an MPV or a van,” he said. “It’s more a lifestyle capsule. It’s an iPod on wheels.”

It will be the fifth model for Zeekr, a 2½-year-old premium electric-vehicle brand of China’s Geely group, a major maker that owns Volvo and has designers in Sweden and Shanghai.

The Mix will go on sale in China by the end of June, the company said. Its selling price has not been announced.

The electric-vehicle boom in China that started three years ago has eaten into the market for gasoline-powered cars, but they are not dead yet.

So says Chery Automobile Co., China’s biggest exporter, which told its auto show audience that it would continue to develop gasoline cars as well as electrics and hybrids.

Its EXEED Yaoguang C-DM, a hybrid SUV offered last month, was one of four vehicles it highlighted — two hybrids and two electrics.

The Yaoguang SUV sells for $22,000-$31,000 in China and is also aimed at overseas markets, a company news release said.

Hybrids, which have lagged electric vehicles in China, are now seen as a growth opportunity. Last year, 2.6 million new hybrids were sold in China, about half the number of electrics. Together, they accounted for 36% of the market.

THE LUXURY TANK

Chinese electric-vehicle maker BYD, known for its low-cost battery technology and cars, is also going after the high-end market in China, defined $140,000 and up.

Its Yangwang brand introduced the latest version of the U8, a monster of an off-road SUV that was introduced last September and is designed for survival in rugged conditions. It comes with a satellite phone in case a driver gets stuck beyond cell phone range.

The U8 is built on a platform that enables it to turn on the spot, like a tank. It’s priced at $150,000. For $13,800 more, buyers can add a built-in drone system.

A SIMPLER APPROACH

Volvo, the Swedish brand now under Geely, offered an answer for those overwhelmed by technology.

“The current EV market is marked by a prevalent trend of excess and addition,” said Roger Yu, Volvo’s managing director for sales in greater China.

He introduced the EX30 electric SUV as a user-friendly vehicle with a sophisticated sound system and a tablet screen that are both easy to use.

“By subtracting for ease of use and adding for safety, Volvo aims to give users the clearest interface, the most user-friendly operation, and the most reassuring intelligent experience,” he said of the in-car screen.

The company announced that the EX30 would sell in China for $29,000-$36,000.

Information for this article was contributed by Yu Bing and Olivia Zhang of The Associated Press.

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