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Friday, April 27, 2012

Beijing Auto Show: Year of the Dragon

It was the year of the dragon at the Beijing Auto show this week.

Aston Martin, Smart, and Chrysler’s Jeep all unveiled dragon-themed cars at the motor show this week. Jeep made the biggest splash, with dragon designs sketched into the hood of the car. Even the the model showcasing the car had a dragon tattoo.

China now leads the world in car sales with nearly 20 million vehicles sold annually.

And Paul Eisenstein of the Detroit Bureau says all that buying power is giving Chinese consumers a greater say in how cars are designed.

Car makers are tailoring their designs more and more to reflect Chinese tastes. In some cases, that means luxury cars with larger back seats to accommodate wealthy Chinese consumers, who like to watch TV or surf the web, while they are chauffeured around.

It’s Electric

Several electric vehicles were also unveiled at Auto China 2012.

General Motors unveiled plans for its second-generation “Electric Networked Vehicle.” It’s a two-seater (see photo in slideshow above) that looks like something out of Buck Rogers. But despite carmakers showcasing electric cars in Beijing, China isn’t going electric as quickly as expected.

In 2009, China’s leaders pledged billions of dollars for research and called for annual sales of 500,000 cars by 2015.

The government is scaling back those numbers after fewer than 2,000 electric cars (mostly taxis) were sold in China this year.

Foreign-Chinese Mashups

The other big trend out of the auto show: mash-ups of foreign and Chinese-designed cars.

Eisenstein said that domestic Chinese carmakers now have about 30 percent of the Chinese market. The government is trying to increase those numbers by encouraging joint China-only brands.

Analysts say that Chinese companies with strong ties to foreign automakers are likely to be in the best position to survive the increased competition in the marketplace.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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