Out to china for the strangest car show of the year. Beijing is a place of utter contrasts, one of the world’s most modern cities cloaked in smog so thick it would make 19th century London seem positively fragrant. Several dozen loors up in the Hyatt Hotel the loos are equipped with a bank of switches and controls so complex they’d not look out of place on the facia of a light aircraft, yet if you try to access Twitter, Facebook or You Tube you’ll discover that, in this part of the world at least, they have ceased to exist.
The smog gets everywhere. apparently before the 2008 Olympics all the heavy industry was shut down for weeks to clear the air but it’s back now.
I thought the roads would be choked with cars from Chinese manufacturers, but they’re not. It seems the standards are so abysmal that not even the fiercest patriots want to drive them. Those on a budget turn to hyundai and toyota, those with cash to burn prefer Mercs, Audis and Land Rovers.
The Beijing show itself was fascinating. All the big guns who stayed away from Tokyo last year turned up in Beijing, so there was Bentley, Lamborghini, Ferrari and the other European blue bloods rubbing shoulders with geely, saic and BYD (it stands for Build Your Dreams).
The chinese manufacturers may not have skills to make world-class products now, but they know how to acquire them, either by buying brands outright as geely did with Volvo, or, more commonly, going into joint ventures with European manufacturers. what’s in it for the Europeans? Well if you take the example of Mercedes’ deal with BYD, quite a lot. Using Mercedes know-how and BYD production facilities they will next year bring to the Chinese market a new electric car.
Big deal, you might think, until you discover that the Chinese government aims to increase the number of electric cars on its roads from the current 10,000 to five million by 2020. And a piece of that action is something no sensible car manufacturer could choose to ignore.