Tag Archives: Beijing

New York, Beijing, Paris, Goodwood

Auto Show See Touch SmellRecent months have seen repeated calls for a UK motor show. So far this year we’ve had Detroit, Geneva, Beijing; Paris is next. Why not the UK? We’re Europe’s second largest market, and poised to become its third-biggest manufacturer, producing luxury brands Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Range Rover and Jaguar as well cars for the global market leader, Toyota.

But the fact is that motor shows are moving away from traditional automotive locations. The best European show is Geneva’s, in a country with no automotive industry and an ambivalent attitude to motoring. China’s auto industry is in its infancy, yet the industry descends on the Beijing and Shanghai shows. And New York is becoming a favoured event even though it’s a million miles from Detroit in motor culture.

There’s a change of axis which is driving this. Asia is now the world’s economic powerhouse, and with its emerging economies is the land of mass opportunity for car sales. In the mature markets a smaller show like New York is now as likely to be chosen for a major launch, especially by high-equity brands – Land Rover used it this year to unveil its future in the form of the Vision concept, because the city is a style capital, global influencer and catalyst to the US market. Detroit is not.

But the New York show itself is just like Detroit and all the others: an anachronism. Cars – things which move, transform our lives and stir the soul – parked uninspiringly on stands in vast exhibition centres. And with little to excite or involve the customer. In the age of experiential marketing, digital communication and virtual reality, the motor show needs new forms.

In that sense, the UK already has a motor show. It took place last weekend and it’s called the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s a social event, a celebration, a place where the famous are there as themselves, where the cars are the celebrities and are driven rather than merely displayed. It’s an occasion. A networking opportunity with props.

fos130713_E5A5751_2700013bThat attracts people – 200,000 of them -and it attracts the carmakers, who get involved in not only the celebration of motor sport at the core of the event but now also bring – and allow visitors to drive – everyday models in a lovely setting. The Festival’s Moving Motor Show alone attracted 19 car brands this year, so not just those with performance models. Dacia, Renault’s Romanian budget brand, was there with its entire range; manufacturers launch new models there (18 this year): this is now a mainstream motor show, even if it takes place outside in the grounds of a stately home.

The Festival of Speed is not a template – it’s unique, idiosyncratic – but it is an illustration of what people want from a motor show: interaction, informality, fun. Despite the incredible pace of vehicle development, the industry’s other motor shows are stuck in the 1960s. They need to change, especially if they’re not in a hot market.

If carmakers’ design and R&D brains which are transforming mobility and allowing the industry to reinvent itself for a more sustainable world could be applied to the production of motor shows, the experience could surely be transformed into something spectacularly cutting-edge. Combine that with the Festival’s more intimate virtues and it would be inspiring.

 

 

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Bentley, Beijing and the hybrid halo

Mercedes recently said that the combustion engine is with us for at least 20 more years. No doubt that’s right, but it has a particular interest. The fact that it still produces a V12 is a badge of honour for the brand. And no doubt a purchase trigger for Asian plutocrats who absolutely must have the highest in perceived luxury.

bentley-mulsanne-hybrid-concept-2014-beijing-auto-show_100463149_lContrast that with last week’s debut of a hybrid Bentley. It’s an important moment, the more so because it was at the Beijing auto show – a place where the brands don’t normally make concessions to the distinctly Western concept of sustainable luxury. The Bentley is officially a concept car, but significantly it’s a version of the Mulsanne, a production model and the brand’s flagship: if hybrid technology it can be accepted at the pinnacle of traditional, conservative luxury, it can fit with any brand.

With the Bentley, and the simultaneous Beijing launch of a production long-wheelbase hybrid Range Rover, the time when luxury and premium car buyers will want to know why they haven’t got hybrid power is surely approaching. Hybrid systems are at the apex of powertrain technology right now, and if seen as such customers will demand them.

Bentley’s VW Group sister brand Porsche already offers a hybrid Cayenne and Panamera, but they don’t sell. Same for Range Rover’s standard-wheelbase hybrid Range Rover: they’re not proper Porsches or real Range Rovers. But the Bentley and the LWB Range Rover can change this. If the idea of a hybrid Bentley goes down well with Chinese luxury car buyers, it will gain acceptance for Porsche’s hybrids. And if hybrid power is accepted in the limousine version of the Range Rover it won’t be perceived as a dilution of the brand in the standard car.

Creating hybrid versions of range-topping cars enables VW Group and Jaguar Land Rover to exploit the higher margins of big-ticket products and, in time, as the halo effect occurs, to sell hybrid versions of lower-price, higher volume products at a profit. Larger volumes will in turn reduce the cost of hybrid technology.

China is key to widespread adoption of future electric vehicle technologies: as a growing car market with vast volume potential it makes no sense to continue building only a combustion-engine infrastructure to meet the needs of the emerging motorised masses. Last month the premier declared a war on air pollution, yet the country still lacks a vehicle charging infrastructure. Hybrids are therefore the catalyst. It’s good strategy for the carmakers to push hybrid products in China, and to do so top-down, using halo brands and models as cultural influencers. Plug-in hybrids and battery-only vehicles will follow when the infrastructure is there.

So the challenge for global mass-adoption is one of communications, and the audience it needs to communicate with is as likely to read Wired as Forbes. Hybrid systems need to be positioned not so much as a means to supplemental performance or a cleaner, greener conscience as simply the latest and best technology, a must-have.

A premium car without sat nav? No chance. The same surely applies to the technology which is the beating heart of a car.