Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shanghai surprises

Automakers debut runabouts, supercars and more in bid for Chinese customers

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Suzuki's SX4 S Cross compact crossover.

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Suzuki's SX4 S Cross compact crossover.

Acura

Like pretty much every other luxury brand, Honda's Acura got the memo to show up in Shanghai with a crossover concept. The Concept SUV-X was the first-ever Acura concept to make its debut at a Chinese auto show.

Parked alongside the Acura NSX concept and RLX luxury sedan (which will go on sale here this year), the concept SUV-X looks about the same size as our RDX crossover, but with much more flamboyant styling.

Parent Honda hasn't revealed any technical details about the Acura concept, but the Japanese automaker did confirm the SUV-X is a precursor to a "global" production vehicle that will be built and sold in China first and has the "environmental performance of a small vehicle and excellent utility of an SUV."

That sounds like, er, sort of like every other small crossover on the market.

Buick

You probably already know that General Motors' demi-luxury Buick brand sells more cars in China than anywhere else in the world, so it's no surprise the new Rivera concept was assigned to the automaker's Shanghai and Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center designers. In fact, the Riviera is the fourth global concept vehicle jointly developed by the two Asian design centres.

GM says the new Riviera "combines avant-garde esthetics and advanced technology," including a plug-in gas-electric hybrid powertrain. While the exterior design of the Riviera is said to foretell the look of future Buicks, the Shanghai show car was also flush with high-tech goodies.

For instance, the concept's batteries can be charged wirelessly via a charging mat the concept parks on, while holographic images on the windshield display the driver's surroundings via 10 high-resolution cameras and 18 sensors.

Ford

Ford is getting serious about China. The automaker said 2012 saw the biggest uptake in Chinese Ford sales since the post-Second World War boom, and the automaker is backing this success with a US$4.9-billion growth plan.

As part of that plan, Ford debuted its subcompact Fiesta ST, a mid-size Fusion sedan (dubbed Mondeo in China) and a compact sedan with a name familiar to Canadian small-car buyers: the Escort, a nameplate last seen in Canada in 2003.

While the styling of the Chinese-built front-wheel-drive Escort four-door has some of the Aston Martin-like touches that are appearing on all new Fords, its proportions are different than the Canadian Focus. As for the Fusion-Mondeo, a new 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 178 horsepower that also made its debut in Shanghai is speculated to become available on North American Fusion models for 2014.

Icona

The Vulcano supercar is the first product from Icona, an Italian design and coach-building company that set up shop in Shanghai specifically to cater to rich Chinese supercar buyers.

Each Vulcano is individually commissioned and can cost as much as $2.7 million. I know what you're thinking: For that kind of money, you could buy a better-known supercar, such as the new Ferrari LaFerrari supercar, which also made its Chinese debut in Shanghai.

But at least the Volcano has some Italian heritage underneath its long hood. You can opt for either a rear-drive Volcano with a 790-hp 12-cylinder and a 160-hp electric motor or an all-wheel-drive version sporting a 550-hp twin-turbo six-cylinder and a pair of 160-hp electric motors front and back, both created by ex-Ferrari F1 technical director Claudio Lombardi.

Or just buy a Ferrari.

Nissan

According to Nissan, there are about 250 million Chinese born in the 1980s who are primed to become new-car-buying candidates. And the automaker's new Friend-ME concept has been targeted right at the heart of this demographic.

In what will become a series of new concepts aimed at Chinese buyers (there's no truth to the rumours that some of the future names for the series of show cars being considered are the Call-ME, Text-ME or Fax-ME), the Friend-ME is the first.

A combined effort of Nissan's Chinese and Japanese design studios, the Friend-ME sits on an existing small-car platform (we're assuming the subcompact Versa's). So the automaker says it shouldn't be too hard to put the concept into production if the demand is there.

If Nissan does, the automaker's so-called Pure Drive gas-electric hybrid powertrain is a prime candidate to power the 2+2 sedan.

Suzuki

Talk about being a tease. Just as it's in the process of bailing out of the North American market (2014 will be the last model year for the automaker's cars in Canada), Japan's Suzuki rolled out a pair of new vehicles here in China, cars that would probably have helped its efforts back in the western world.

In addition to the SX4 S Cross compact crossover that first debuted at this year's Geneva Motor Show, the Japanese automaker unveiled its Authentics sedan concept. We don't have any technical details, but Suzuki says the Authentics is a preview of a new four-door, five-passenger sedan aimed at the same compact class as the also-new Ford Escort -- the biggest new-car segment in China.

Toyota

Toyota revealed the new Yaris hatchback along with its sedan sibling, the Vios. Both are production versions of the concept cars shown at last year's Beijing show and are, for now, exclusive to China.

The cars, which are labelled global strategic compacts, arrive with standard projector headlights and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine producing 109 hp and 104 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox or optional four-speed automatic. Given the reference to global, it's not difficult to see the more engaging design being adopted in other parts of the world, including Canada.

The Toyota FT-HT Yuejia is a truly funky-looking hybrid that features scissor-style doors and six seats arranged in three rows of two. Aimed at the young, it is said to be ready for production and, as with the Yaris, will be a Chinese exclusive.

Volkswagen

Germany's Volkswagen celebrated 30 years of building cars in China with the debut of its new CrossBlue Coupe concept, a show car that may become the next-generation Tiguan. Not to be confused with the three-row CrossBlue concept crossover, which VW plans on building in its U.S. plant and which debuted at this year's Detroit auto show, this Shanghai CrossBlue Coupe has only two rows of seats and a much sportier profile.

Longer, wider and lower than the current mid-size Touareg, the CrossBlue Coupe addresses the complaint that the current compact Tiguan is too small for supersize North American buyers. VW says the production versions of both the three- and two-row CrossBlue crossovers will get four- and six-cylinder gas and diesel engines as well as a plug-in gas-electric hybrid powertrain option.

-- Postmedia News

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 E5

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