Two years ago, we visited Shanghai to scope out China’s biggest motor show (click to see our coverage). It was a time of economic boom, not just in China but right around the world, and the plethora of local and international projects on display exceeded all expectations.
Yet there were plenty of caveats. While big Western brands were happily muscling in on the local market (in partnership with local firms, as Government rules dictated), there was little sign that Chinese companies had the design nous or technological know-how to compete outside their mother country.

Shanghai Motor Show 2009

See our highlights from the Shanghai Motor Show 2009
That was then. While the global economic whiplash has decimated a decade-long streak of optimism, the Chinese car market has continued to expand in size and sophistication. In the first three months of 2009, more cars were sold in China than the USA, the first time such a reversal has ever occurred. With all eyes on China, the 2009 Shanghai Show didn’t disappoint and the automotive press was, for once, agreed on one thing: Shanghai is now one of the world’s most important venues for new car design.
Most notable was the swift maturity of so many of local brands, exhibiting cars and concepts that will strike fear into established names from the West. When it comes to catchy names, however, there’s still some work to be done (Geely’s three new sub-brands were called Gleagle, Emgrand and Shanghai Englon, curious constructs more suited to a Martin Amis novel than a Western showroom).
There show was a mix of the practical and the perverse, as well as a certain amount of pastiche, not least in terms of cribbed proportions and detailing. China also has to overcome a decade-long legacy of accepting older generation models from the West and restyling them to suit local markets; an awful lot of the cars on display were dynamically and technically inferior to their Western competitors.
But things are changing fast, starting with the budget end of the market. Western luxury brands have a few years grace before their unassailable quality standards start to be matched. However, it’s looking ever likelier that your next small electric city car will hail from China.