China is still an emerging market when it comes to new cars, yet it has become one of the most pivotal when it comes to automakers going out of their way to meet the needs of the buying public. That’s because a decade ago, China was selling a few million cars to the elite few. Last year, it sold 13.2 million vehicles compared to the U.S.’s 14.5 million. And while we’re expecting to grow, China will be growing faster.
That’s what happens when your country’s population is four times larger than the U.S.’s.
The Shanghai Motor Show shows where the world’s biggest automakers are placing their bets. What’s going to be big? Where is the market headed? Look to China. Below is a quick recap of the cars the North American market should care about when it comes to the Shanghai Motor Show.
Acura SUV-X Concept
About darn time, Acura. A few years back, Acura redesigned its look around a “shield” grille. It looked like a beak. And it ruined the bland, if not classic, looks Acura had traditionally carried, instead using off-putting design elements. After a few years of refinement with new vehicles like the 2013 Acura RDX and 2014 Acura RLX, Acura looks like it has finally made a stylish car–not just an inoffensive one–in the Acura SUV-X Concept. If this one is to be made, look for it to go up against the BMW X1s and Mercedes-Benz GLAs of the world.
BMW Concept X4
Based on the BMW X3, the BMW Concept X4 is the coupe-ification of BMW’s compact crossover. Er, Sport Activity Vehicle, which makes the X4 a Sport Activity Coupe. BMW hasn’t minced words: The X4 will be headed to production, built in its South Carolina plant for world consumption. It joins the similarly themed BMW X6 in the automaker’s niche crossover lineup. While BMW doesn’t list many specifics, expect the X4 to have the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 3.0-liter inline-6 as the X3, maybe even bringing a few new powertrains with it when it hits production.
Buick Riviera Concept
Ever wonder why General Motors kept Buick in 2009 after the company’s restructuring at a time when it got rid of Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn? The answer lies in China, Buick’s largest market, where it’s considered a modern, premium brand for younger shoppers–exactly what it’s striving to become in the U.S. Following up on a similar 2007 concept of the same name is this Buick Riviera concept, a new plug-in hybrid coupe that the automaker says is inspired by flowing water. Buick, quit teasing us with coupe concepts. Just find a way to build us something that looks this cool, in and out.
2013 Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-4 50 Anniversario
With 20 more horsepower than the regular Aventador–710 in U.S. ratings, 720 by everyone else’s calculations–a vibrant yellow paint that recalls the 1968 Miura’s, a special interior finish, and badges galore, the Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-4 50 Anniversario is one fine way to celebrate a half-century of everyone’s favorite maker of cars worthy of being made into wall posters. The Italian brand is only making the 50 Anniversario for the year, and while it was displayed in China, expect it to be sold worldwide eventually.
2014 Maserati Ghibli
Slotting below the 2014 Maserati Quattroporte, the 2014 Maserati Ghibli is set to compete at the upper end of the BMW 5 Series spectrum, while the Quattroporte faces off against B7 Apinas and well-equipped full-size cars. The Ghibli will come equipped with a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 that packs 420 horsepower. Optionally, it will have Maserati’s first diesel, a V-6, likely borrowed from the Chrysler 300 in Europe and the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel in the U.S., so there’s a chance it could come here. All engines are paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive will be available. While likely based on the Chrysler 300, we expect its character to be completely different
Mercedes-Benz GLA Concept
It’s called a concept, but the Mercedes-Benz GLA is more like a preview of what we’re about to see from the German automaker. Based around the same architecture as the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the GLA is a new subcompact crossover that will undercut the GLK in both size and price. Powering the concept is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine that makes 208 horsepower. It’s paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, powering all four wheels. Among its cool features are laser headlights that can project signals on the road to bikers and pedestrians and flood lights for both the front and the rear of it. Expect to see this one become reality in the next year or two.
Mitsubishi G4 Concept
Is it a little putzy? Yeah, sure. Is it an important car? More than you know. The Mitsubishi G4 Concept is based on the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, a subcompact hatchback that will never light the world on fire with its 1.2-liter, 74-horsepower engine. Where the car will draw fans is with its cheap price, honest utility, and massive fuel economy–37 mpg city/44 mpg highway. Both China and the U.S. prefer sedans over hatchbacks–unlike much of the rest of the world–which means we could see this car as a Mirage sedan eventually, pending it sees the light of day. We wouldn’t bet against it. And even if it’s never a huge success in the U.S., it will definitely be a money-maker for Mitsubishi.
Nissan Friend-Me Concept
There are 240 million Chinese men who were born in the 1980s and embrace social media. There are a lot more of us who aren’t Chinese but fit that description pretty well otherwise. Clearly, 20somethings are a pretty good audience for the Friend-Me concept. Under the hood is nothing too special: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired to an electric motor. But it’s the aggressive styling, rakish hatchback looks, and what’s on the inside that counts. Namely, it’s fully integrated for social media use, allowing drivers to interact with their friends behind the wheel. Using an onboard screen, passengers can “toss” cool content from their phones onto the sharing board. It can even play a different soundtrack based on where it is. We’d “friend” it.
2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Here’s a short list of things we’ve wanted to see in the Porsche Panamera: a long-wheelbase version and a V-8 hybrid model. Porsche has delivered on both counts with the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, a car that can travel 20 miles on a plug-in charge and can still hit 60 mph from standstill in just 5.2 seconds. It’s the Porsche sedan you’ve come to love, through and through, but it’s now a little longer and a little more fuel-efficient, joining the V-6 hybrid that has been in the Panamera’s lineup for a few years.
Volkswagen CrossBlue Coupe Concept
Remember the Volkswagen CrossBlue concept from the Detroit Auto Show in January? This is to that what the BMW X6 is to the X5. Built on the MQB architecture that will underpin nearly everything in Volkswagen’s lineup eventually, the CrossBlue Coupe is a far more rakish design than the seven-passenger CrossBlue, painted CrossOrange, and equipped with a hybrid powertrain that VW says punches out 415 horsepower, can propel the CrossBlue from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, and can still achieve as much as 79 mpg when fully charged.