Show on the road to a greener future

THE 14th Shanghai International Automobile Exhibition, which opened yesterday with 75 world debuts and 1,100 models on display, set the stage for car makers to test inspiring designs, ponder new technologies and unveil strategies for the world's largest auto market.

With rising fuel prices and a growing awareness of environmental protection, green technologies and initiatives remained a key theme for the biennial auto show.

Car sales in China slowed sharply in the first quarter of this year after two years of explosive growth causing some concern for car makers at home and abroad. As a result, manufacturers believe the introduction of more fuel-efficient models as well as green technologies will become even more important for their sustained growth in China.

FAW Group is to invest 9.8 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) by 2015 in the engineering and production of new energy vehicles over the next five years, Xu Jianyi, chairman of China's second largest auto maker, said.

Focusing on both hybrid and electrc cars, it aims to develop 13 passenger cars and three commercial vehicles using green technologies.

Volkswagen showcased its cutting-edge green car technologies at the Shanghai show, including an electric Golf and Lavida and a Touareg hybrid. The maker said its first electric vehicle fleet under the VW brand started running on a demonstration program in China from early April.

Luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz brought its Smart electric vehicle as well as its B-Class fuel cell models to Shanghai. It is considering introduce hybrid or plug-in hybrid models into the Chinese market, CEO Dieter Zetsche said.

"Energy-saving is the top priority around the globe. It's our objective to be ahead in the segment with the invention of new energy vehicles and ultimately zero-emission vehicles," he said.

Honda plans to start importing the hybrid version of its Insight and CR-Z sedans into China next year while Brilliance China Automotive Holdings announced it would introduce a plug-in hybrid in 2013.

Chinese auto makers including Changan Auto Group and BYD Company Ltd all unveiled environmental-friendly models at the show.

Most car makers believe China will play a crucial role in their global new energy vehicle strategy not only because of the potential sales volume but also because of the determination of the Chinese government and domestic car makers.

According to a nationwide blueprint for new energy vehicles that has been under discussion, China plans to invest 100 billion yuan (US$15.3 billion) into the green industry in the next 10 years, aiming to have green car sales top 5 million by 2020.

The mass production of energy-saving models still relies on breakthroughs in battery technology, infrastructure construction and industrial standards in addition to the economies of scale that would help make those cars more affordable.

There is optimism that China's auto market will continue to boom, evidenced by the huge crowds and car makers' product launches at the Shanghai show.

Ferrari debuted its first four-wheel drive model, the FF.

Renault launched sales of its new generation of Laguna sedans while Jaguar brought its latest flagship model the XKR-S.

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2011-04-20 13:52:31