When global automakers descend on Beijing next week for Auto China, they will be laser-focused on two white-hot vehicle segments.
In one, the booming crossover and SUV market, Chinese demand is consumer-driven. In the other, the surging new-energy vehicle arena, demand is buoyed largely by generous subsidies. But automakers can’t ignore either and are racing to flesh out their lineups in both.
Auto sales in China, the world’s largest auto market, are forecast to grow 3 percent this year from a whopping 28.9 million vehicles in 2017. Last year, crossover and SUV sales climbed 13 percent to 10.25 million vehicles. China’s vast market for electric vehicles grew 82 percent to 468,000 in 2017 and saw volume surge 164 percent this year through February.
Here is a look at what’s on tap in Beijing.
Audi will stretch its popular Q5 midsize crossover in a bid to make it even more popular with Chinese customers who cherish an extra bit of rear legroom.
The Q5 L bowing in Beijing will be the first long-wheelbase crossover in Audi’s range. It offers passengers nearly 4 inches more rear legroom than the standard Q5.
It will be produced in China by Audi’s joint venture partner FAW-VW and isn’t expected to be marketed outside the country. The standard Q5 is built exclusively in Mexico.
General Motors’ entry-level domestic brand will target family customers with the six-seat Baojun 360 MPV. The people mover, also offered in a five-seat variant, will feature Baojun’s new exterior design language, with a reworked grille, roof and waistline for a sportier stance. It runs on a 1.5-liter engine and is expected to hit the market this year.
BMW will update its X3 compact crossover with a couple Chinese twists. Among them is the decision to begin making the popular nameplate at the Dadong plant in China, where BMW runs a joint venture with Brilliance Automotive.
BMW declined to comment on various press reports that it also might introduce an electrified X3. CEO Harald Krueger said in March that the brand’s next EV will be an X3 variant called the iX3 that arrives in 2020. He said more news on that would come at the Beijing show.
Buick will charge its electric ambitions with two battery-driven vehicles for China.
The first is the Velite 6 sedan, offered in two variants, a plug-in hybrid or full electric.
The cars are based on the Velite Concept that debuted in November 2016.
Buick said the EV will get an all-new electric propulsion system, although it declined to give more details.
Buick’s second Beijing show car is an electric SUV concept called the Enspire.
The redesigned Focus makes its public debut, touting new emphasis on semi-autonomous technology and sporty exterior design.
Ford bundles the advanced adaptive cruise control features into a package called Co-Pilot360. It monitors speed, lane-keeping and distance from the car ahead to assist driving in stop-and-go traffic. Co-Pilot360 also offers a one-button self-parking function and evasive-steering assist.
The Focus goes on sale in China and Europe this year and lands stateside in 2019. Ford said it intended to export the China-built Focus to the U.S.
The South Korean brands each plan to unveil a China-specific model. But neither has released details.
The baleen whale look may point to the Lexus ES.
Lexus has released only a teaser shot of its show car. The mammoth, baleen whale maw of a grille in the preview pic likely depicts the fresh looks of the redesigned ES sedan.
Mercedes is expected to have two offerings on show.
The first is a Mercedes-Maybach crossover or SUV concept that would extend the ultrapremium Maybach subbrand beyond the top-rung S-class sedan. The other is a new Mercedes compact car that was completely developed in China for China.
Mercedes is mum on further details about either vehicle, but Autocar reported that the light truck will be a Mercedes-Maybach GLS sharing the same underpinnings as the latest GLS SUV. It will get exterior flourishes and a more upscale interior to differentiate it.
It reportedly would go on sale in 2019 and start around $170,000.
Nissan targets the SUV segment with a new four-wheel-drive midsize body-on-frame SUV called the Terra, specially developed for China.
It will go on sale this spring, first in China, with other Asian markets to follow. The Terra will be built in China on the same assembly line as the China-market Navara pickup.
Nissan gave no indication that the Terra would be sold in the U.S. or Europe.
The Japanese automaker also will unveil an electric vehicle, but it did not offer details.
Pininfarina, the Mahindra-owned Italian consultancy and design studio, has teamed with Hybrid Kinetic Group, of Hong Kong, to show two electrified concept cars.
The sleek H500 sedan could be positioned as a Tesla fighter with its refined, aerodynamic silhouette. Hybrid Kinetic developed the battery, electric motors, central control unit and range extender, indicating it will get a hybrid setup.
Details on the other vehicle are under wraps for now.
Toyota also says it is planning a new product announcement for China.
While the Japanese carmaker hasn’t disclosed details, smart bets are on plug-in hybrid variants of its Corolla and Levin small cars. Toyota said in 2016 that it would launch the gasoline-electric cars in China in 2018.
The German giant is expected to unveil new sedans from each of its two Chinese joint ventures, plus one concept sedan foreshadowing the brand’s direction. VW also will publicly show the redesigned Touareg crossover, part of its plan to introduce or renew at least 10 crossovers and SUVs in China by 2020.
Christiaan Hetzner, Nick Gibbs, Peter Sigal and Yang Jian contributed to this report.