SHANGHAI – Volkswagen unveiled an electric luxury sedan that promises a 700-kilometer (435-mile) battery range as global and Chinese automakers displayed their latest SUVs, sedans and muscle cars at the world’s biggest auto show Tuesday.
Auto Shanghai 2023 reflects the intense competition in China’s fast-growing electric vehicle market after the ruling Communist Party poured billions of dollars into promoting the technology. China accounted for two-thirds of global electrics sales last year.
Brands including General Motors, BMW and Nissan and Chinese rivals BYD Auto and NIO unveiled dozens of new EVs in the cavernous Shanghai exhibition center. Brands touted faster charging, satellite-linked navigation and entertainment, and the future possibility of self-driving technology.
Volkswagen’s ID.7 sedan, the new flagship model for its electric vehicles, was one of 28 models displayed by the German automaker, half of them electrified.
“We are turbo-charging our electric campaign,” said the CEO of VW’s passenger car brand, Thomas Schaefer, who rode onto the stage aboard an electric minibus. Schaefer said VW plans to release another 10 electric models in the next three years.
The show is the auto industry’s first full-scale sales event in its biggest market since 2019 following the end of anti-virus controls in December that blocked most travel into and out of China.
Automakers are looking to China to drive sales growth at a time of slack American and European demand, but that requires then to pour money into creating competitive models that can appeal to Chinese buyers in a crowded market.
Established global brands face pressure from ambitious Chinese newcomers and to meet government sales quotas for electrics. Many are forming partnerships to split soaring development costs.
China is “playing a leading role in the industry’s electric and digital transformation,” said Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley in a recorded message played on a video screen.
Electrics accounted for just over a quarter of the 23.6 million SUVs, sedans and minivans sold last year in China while sales of traditional gasoline-powered vehicles declined.
GM debuted an electric SUV, the Buick Electra E5, ahead of the auto show. Toyota Motor Co. unveiled two new models for its bZ line of zero-emissions vehicles. Honda Motor Co. premiered a new prototype for its China-focused electric brand, e:N.
Toyota also displayed a prototype self-driving taxi developed with China’s Pony.ai, a leading competitor in the country’s fast-evolving autonomous vehicle industry.
Chinese luxury electric brand NIO Inc., which competes with Tesla Inc. at the premium end of the market, unveiled its latest SUV, the ES6, and an update of its flagship sedan, the ET7. Both have digital cockpits and an onboard computer with connections for tablet computers and other devices.
BMW AG showed an all-electric lineup including two new models, the i7 M70L and XM Label Red. The German sport luxury brand’s M760Le had its China debut.
Automakers also highlighted China’s growing role as a source of exports and innovation, especially EVs.
NIO and BYD Auto are among a growing group of Chinese EV brands that are starting to sell in foreign markets. BYD Auto exports to Europe and opened a dealership in Japan this year. NIO started selling in Europe in 2021 and says it plans to serve 25 countries by 2025.
Global brands all have design centers in China and increasingly are drawing on Chinese talent for engineering, software and other development.
VW is adding as many as 2,000 employees to a research and development center in the eastern city of Anhui to work on “intelligent connected vehicles,” Schaefer said. He said a separate software unit would add up to 1,200 employees this year.
“We are gaining innovative strength by taking on local R&D responsibility,” Schaefer said. “Our guiding principle: Developing in China for China.”
The organizers said automakers would debut 100 new models, 70 of them electric, according to Chinese media.
Drivers in China bought 5.4 million all-electric vehicles last year — about two-thirds of the global total of 8 million — plus 1.5 million gasoline-electric hybrids. This year’s EV sales are forecast to rise another 30%.
Beijing is winding down government support and shifting the burden to automakers by requiring them to earn credits for EV sales.
China’s BYD Auto, which competes with Tesla for the title of world’s biggest-selling EV brand, displayed the U9 supercar from its luxury Yangwang brand and an SUV, the U8. The automaker says the U9, with a 1-million-yuan ($145,000) sticker price, can accelerate from zero to 100 kph (60 mph) in two seconds.
Another Chinese EV brand, Aion, part of state-owned GAC, announced rapid charging technology it said needs as little as five minutes to power up a battery to go 200 kilometers (120 miles).
Aion also unveiled a system it said can remove a drained battery and install a fresh one in as little as two minutes. The company said that would be quicker than filling a gasoline tank, eliminating a drawback to EV ownership.
China’s auto sales peaked in 2017 at 24.7 million but collapsed in 2020 to 20.2 million after dealerships closed as part of efforts to contain COVID-19. They are recovering but have yet to return to the pre-pandemic level.
For drivers who aren’t ready to give up fossil fuels, state-owned BAIC unveiled a hulking, American-style pickup truck, the Mars, with a 6.8-liter diesel engine. The company boasted that with its flaring wheel wells, the Mars is 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) wide.
The ruling party’s support for EV development is part of plans to gain wealth and global influence by transforming China into a creator of profitable technologies.
That campaign has strained relations with Washington and other trading partners, which are cutting off access to advanced processor chips used by makers of smartphones, electric cars and other high-tech products. China’s own foundries can supply low-end chips used in many cars but not processors for artificial intelligence and other advanced functions.
Sales of gasoline-electric hybrids and all-electric vehicles rose 26.2% over a year ago in the first three months of 2023 to 1.6 million, according to the China Association of Auto Manufacturers. Sales of purely electric vehicles rose 14.4% to 1.2 million while hybrids increased 75.1% to 433,000.
Tesla and some other brands cut prices by 5% to 15% starting in January after sales growth slowed, though to still-robust levels compared with the U.S. and European markets. That prompted warnings that the squeeze on an industry with dozens of fledgling brands might force smaller automakers into mergers or out of business.