In photos: Dive into the world of Chinese cars and SUVs at Auto Shanghai 2019
Attend a few auto shows, and you'll find yourself in much the same routine, bouncing across the floor from one major automaker to the next, looking for what's new and exciting. They're brands you've known since before you could see over the dashboard — the Fords, Nissans, Volkswagens, GMs, etc. etc. But the Shanghai auto show flips the experience on its ear, and those staple brands are thoroughly diluted in a larger pool filled with names you just don't see much of at other international shows — the SAICs, JACs, BYDs, etc. etc. Suddenly, you're a young kid at his very first auto show, where everything is new and wondrous.
That's not to say that the familiar global brands don't have any presence at all. For instance, this year Toyota has everyone staring with mouths agape at the Lexus LM luxury minivan, and Volkswagen impresses with its latest electric ID concept. So the gallery offers a mix of both Chinese vehicles and global models, as does the highlights section:
Gyon lights a fire without a match
It's hard to get excited when a new Chinese unknown announces a leap into the American market. It's harder still when that announcement isn't even accompanied by so much as a concept car or model. But that's exactly how Chinese luxury brand Gyon entered the US fray last August, holding a press conference on an LA stage conspicuously absent of any type of actual vehicle. You'll be forgiven for having forgotten all about Gyon eight months later ... that is, if you even noticed it to begin with.
Gyon isn't repeating that mistake in Shanghai, making sure it's both known and remembered with the Matchless concept, an effort that shows the company isn't afraid to go against the grain with a debut design that breaks from the cookie-cutter electric SUVs dominating the Shanghai floor. And its effort does not go to waste, as the Matchless concept it designed with Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters is one of the most stylish performance estates we've seen of late. The strong D pillars mounted atop bulging fender muscles remind us a little of the 2018 Subaru Viziv Tourer, but the overall design is longer, softer and sleeker, its character line undulating into a long hood and high-tech face. We particularly like the C-shaped headlights.
A Chinese electric station wagon would sell about as well in the US as an anthrax-laced "Kardashians Sing the Classics" album, and Gyon has already said its US portfolio will run the crossover/sedan/SUV spectrum, so a Matchless-based production car won't be its US debut. Still, it certainly makes us more anxious to see what the brand has in store.
Audi shrink-wraps the autonomous commute
For its Shanghai exhibit, Audi takes aim directly at China's sprawling, overpopulated megacities with the AI:ME, a Level 4 autonomous electric city car concept. The AI:ME shares part of its name and much of its styling DNA with the larger Aicon sedan but goes in an opposite direction, showing how a car doesn't need to be a stretched ultra-premium-sized monster to take advantage of the long-wheelbase, lounge-like comfort offered by autonomous and electric drive technology.
Measuring just 14.1 feet (4.3 m), the AI:ME takes advantage of a lengthened wheelbase underpinned by the decentralized e-drive, offering a more spacious, versatile cabin that Audi fancies a "third living space," following home and work. The interior focuses not on the connection between driver and vehicle, as in a conventional car, but on the valuable free time spent inside. It creates a more comfortable, serene feel with an open glass roof and wood pergola overhead, as well as a mix of wood, Corian and warm gray upholstered surfaces — there are even real plants inside. Should all the glass let too much light and heat pour down, electrochromatic tinting blocks out the sun.
Beyond that, Audi stuffs the AI:ME with much of the usual modern concept car tech — eye tracking, communicative exterior lighting, voice control, 3D OLED display and even VR goggles. The car is powered by a 170-hp rear-drive electric powertrain tailored specifically to slow, steady city commuting between 12 and 44 mph (20 and 70 km/h). It's designed within a car sharing paradigm and powered by an app-based ordering and services system.
The AI:ME is the third in Audi's series of highly purpose-driven electric concept cars, following the Aicon and PB 18 e-tron supercar. Audi plans to show the fourth and final concept in the series at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.
Nio phones home
No surprises here, Nio keeps things short and direct with the ET Preview, a concept car that previews an all-electric sedan series to join the hardcore performance EP9 and ES series SUVs. Nio doesn't have a whole lot to say about the ET Preview, letting the sharply styled sports sedan speak for itself without uttering a word. It is, however, showing its high-performance electric drive with 317-mile (510-km), high-density (NEDC) nickel-cobalt-manganese battery pack and front and rear motors. That sounds like it'd look pretty good below the ET's cool, white skin.
Speaking of skin, the ET Preview doesn't exactly shatter the mold created by Tesla and used by virtually every Chinese EV maker hoping to unseat Tesla as electric king. The car has the sporty, swept-back four-door profile, subtly accentuated fenders, and wide, sharp headlamps. Nio adds its own facial DNA with some extra bumper and body panel work, including the eye-catching fins below the headlamps, but overall, nothing particularly groundbreaking. The ET does benefit from a well-lit, center-of-the-room display, though, so it's sure to turn a few heads, if only because of effective merchandising.
Head to the photo gallery for more SUVs and crossovers, electric performance cars, and brands you probably won't read about again until next year's Auto China show.