The volcanic ash hovering over Europe might have curtailed some Western exhibitors' plans to visit the 2010 Beijing motor show, but that didn't stop the event from being hailed as another massive global success. Not only were key cars unveiled by established Western carmakers but there were a number of increasingly convincing models displayed by Chinese manufacturers.
China officially became the biggest car market in the world in 2009 -- and not just through massive sales of low-budget transport. The country is now Audi's second biggest market and the third most important for Bentley. No surprise then that both marques chose this year's Beijing event -- officially known as Auto China 2010 and held between April 23 to May 2 across a whopping 200,000 sq m exhibition space -- to launch significant models. The cars in question also reflect two of the key trends of the show: ever-expanding rear-seat luxury for limousines (in the shape of the long wheelbase Audi A8 L) and bespoke editions for the local market (the Continental GT Design Series China).
The first trend is a natural progression of the Chinese market's long-standing appreciation of well appointed and spacious rear seating in saloons and limousines which signify business success as well as being important places in which to conduct business and relax when travelling between meetings. Chauffeurs are inexpensive, and as a result Chinese businessmen rarely drive. The stretched Audi A8 L reflects this demand with options that include a footrest that folds down from the back of the front seat, fully reclining rear seats and a mini desk for making important business notes.
The second big trend is making special editions just for the Chinese market. In Bentley's case this included an extension of the luxury rear-seat trend, with interior cushions in the Flying Spur Speed China plus China-only exterior badging and paint colours for the Continental GT Design Series China. As slight and subtle as it sounds, many auto experts believe the trend has legs. Speaking at the Interior Motives China Conference 2010, design director of Beijing Auto, Shan Wei declared that China means, "not simply importing a car. Automotive design must combine with Oriental culture, so that Chinese consumers accept it." Not since European sports car makers wooed American buyers in the 1950s and 60s with special editions has the industry focused so specifically on one particular market.
Alongside a plethora of local market hybrids and EVs, Ford arguably unveiled the concept of the show in the appealingly rounded shape of its sub-100g/km CO2 Start city car. Still capable of more than 100bhp via a tiny turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, it also features a dashboard controllable via a plug-in smartphone and recyclable composite exterior body panels.
With yet more vehicles -- notably the Citroen Metropolis and General Motors' trio of EN-V future mobility concepts -- unveiled at the 2010 Shanghai Expo a week later, China's status as the most important and increasingly sophisticated auto sales market is no longer in doubt.