Beijing auto show to highlight competition for Chinese EV makers

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Only a few automakers have tipped their hand on what products they intend to display at the Beijing show, set to begin Sept. 26 after a five-month delay. But Chinese showgoers are certain to notice a wave of global competition heading to local showrooms.

Nissan Motor Co. said last week it will showcase its upcoming Ariya EV, which the Japanese automaker is calling its most important new product. It will be the first time the electric crossover will be shown publicly outside Japan after its global debut in Yokohama in July.

Nissan currently assembles only one EV model in China — the battery-powered Sylphy compact sedan. The Ariya, expected to go on sale in China in late 2021, is one of several new EVs Nissan plans to roll out here.

Nissan will introduce six additional full-electric vehicles in China by the first quarter of 2024 as part of its vehicle-electrification plan for the market, its China chief Shohei Yamazaki said in August.

While declining to disclose its product plans for Beijing, Toyota Motor Corp. told Automotive News last week that EVs will be the main theme of its exhibits. Toyota builds two EV models in China — battery versions of the C-HR and Izoa crossovers — as well as plug-in variants of the Corolla and Levin sedans. But to ramp up electrified-vehicle output as required by Chinese regulations, Toyota plans to expand local production capacity of EVs and plug-in hybrids, according to its Chinese joint venture partners, China FAW Group Corp. and GAC Motor Co.

Volkswagen Group, the largest automaker in China, has only two EV models in its VW brand — the battery-powered Bora and Lavida sedans. And General Motors, the second-largest player in China’s industry, has just three EVs. It sells the Buick Velite 5 extended-range electric sedan, the Buick Velite 6 electric sedan and the Chevrolet Menlo electric crossover. But both companies now signal new EV launch plans.

Last week, VW Group said it will accelerate EV introduction in China by launching four crossovers under the ID. EV brand before the end of 2021. GM said last month that more than 40 percent of its new launches in China over the next five years will be electrified vehicles.

Neither automaker has indicated whether they will use the Beijing auto show to tease what’s coming.

For now, Chinese brands account for the majority of EV sales in the domestic market. They are not backing down. Judging from information in the Beijing show’s exhibit guide this month, domestic brands intend to defend their home turf by moving upscale.

BAIC Motor Co., the largest EV maker among the domestics, will launch sales of the Alpha-T, an SUV engineered by North American megasupplier Magna International for Arcfox, the state-owned automaker’s newly created EV brand.

Dongfeng Motor Group, another major state-owned auto manufacturer, will unveil an electric sporty sedan concept called the i-Land, under its newly revealed EV brand Voyah.

Geely Automobile Holdings, the largest domestic Chinese carmaker, will showcase the first electric vehicle, a crossover, for its premium brand Lynk & CO.

Hundreds of EV startups have sprouted in China over the past few years. Many have closed as a result of cash shortages, but seven will be present at the Beijing show. They include the New York Stock Exchange-listed Nio and Nasdaq-listed XPeng Motor.

The group also includes Human Horizons, created in 2017 by Ding Lei and Phil Murtaugh, two former executives of GM’s passenger-vehicle joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp., SAIC- GM. Human Horizons will debut its first production model, the HiPhil X sporty electric SUV.

These startups will compete for the limelight with Tesla Inc., which has started taking orders for the Model Y, the second product built at its Shanghai plant following the Model 3.

For nearly a decade, the Chinese EV market has been the reserved territory for local brands. But the competition is heating up between domestic and global players, just as it did in the traditional-vehicle market.

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Saurabh Shukla

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