Skip to main content

Review Beijing Show 2024

Author: Martin Groschwald
Cover - Beijing Autoshow 2024

It’s been 5 long years since my last trip to China. Back in 2019, I am sure no one expected that the visit Shanghai Motor Show might have been the last one in a long time. I regrettably didn’t go to Shanghai in 2023, the more I was excited to finally come back – this time to Beijing for Auto China 2024.

It felt great to finally experience the ever-changing world of China once again. WeChat Pay is now accessible for foreigners as well and what a difference it makes. And Beijing still feels much more Chinese than for example Shanghai (at least from what I do remember – more on that than when we get to the 2025 Shanghai Show). With all its constant change and adaptation of new technologies (especially compared to Germany), the show felt extremely old school. A show like it was 2014. Massive stands and an incredible amount of product, almost no costs spared and just an incredible amount of people on the press day and a somewhat chaotic organisation (getting tickets was a bit of a hassle). Compared with the “new” Western car shows such as the IAA Mobility or Goodwood, Beijing very much felt like a trip down memory lane.

Beijing Autoshow 2024 - 01

With all its “old school” vibe, the show also a massive demonstration of how the Chinese products are influenced in today’s world. Beijing has never been really a “concept car show”, the focus clearly lies on production vehicles and the Chinese customer want to buy what they see. The sheer number of influencers at the show was however absolutely incredible and often overwhelming. You got bumped into regularly by someone with at least one, if not 2 phones livestreaming or recording content. I am pretty sure that these were tracked in real time by the manufacturers as well to see the response by the online crowd. So don’t be surprised if there are any show notice changes to some presented cars because of that. Something that is still rather unique to the Chinese car design world and its focus on the user and trends rather than on brands and a strategic focus. It will be very interesting to see how this can be adapted by companies such as Volkswagen with still very strong European background but pushing for a “From China for China” without a dedicated studio in the market.

Beijing Autoshow 2024 - 02

After such a long hiatus from travelling to China, I was very keen to see how the picture of the car brands on the streets had to change. And boy has it changed indeed. The sheer amount of different Chinese brands both on the road and at the show seemed to never end. The team and I tried to distinguish many of the brands of the road but, I’m not going to lie, struggled quite a bit. Rob from Car Design Research mentioned in a chat at the show that it becomes slightly easier at night when the light signatures play a bigger role but the picture for our, yet untrained eye on the daily Chinese roads became extremely vanilla with some very nice exceptions such as the Li Auto Mega or Zeekr 007.

Being “vanilla” was a bit of the theme I saw with many brands at the show. The more you were wandering through the 4 massive halls, the clearer it becomes that the studios that have somewhat of a Western footprint did stand out in regard to their physical design. I am not going to judge the aesthetics of the cars here, but it was clear that Chinese companies that have a design connection with, in particular Europe, like Zeekr, SAIC (with the MG brand), Lynk&Co and FAW/Hongqi are much more daring and confident with their design direction and language. That obviously does not mean they are automatically more successful, but they stood out of the crowd compared to many cars that were almost undistinguishable from each other.

Beijing Autoshow 2024 - 03

While we certainly see a trend not only in China but globally for a rugged off-road version of “normal” cars (see Porsche Dakar and the just in Beijing released Smart Concept), it was astounding but yet somewhat expected to see that the clichéd “Copy and paste, no time to waste” approach of some brands is still very much alive and kicking. I walked by a brand that clear took the Defender as “inspiration” … very literally. Mercedes G-Class was another one which is apparently like very much in China and has seen a vast number of “homages” at the show. And of course, there also were several designs that tried to combine them all in one...

The Xiaomi SU7 was of course also at the show, and the car has been somewhat the focus point for many of the top-level executives at the show. Labelled by many as a copy of a Taycan but with McLaren lights, it was however mostly inspected because of its price. So, after around 25 minutes in the queue at the Xiaomi stand (shows once again that this was not a “normal” press day), I finally got to sit in one and create my own picture trying to exclude the hype from my mind. Is the car worth the hype? Somewhat. For the price you can buy it in China (if you can get one), it is certainly impressive. However, it is still highly unlikely that they can keep that price for a long time – so see it as a market entry attack. If the SU7 would ever make it over to Europe or the US, which I see as very unlikely, I would never be able to be sold at such a price point. Obviously, there are many points to be included here but in short, I think the car would need to be sold at least 75 000 USD or EUR and above to be profitable (if that would be an aim for Xiaomi). And for that price, you can get some very solid alternatives. So yes, the price is incredible for what it is – in China! But it is highly subsidised and cannot and should not be used for comparison in non-Chinese markets. In China, however, it is indeed a statement. For how long that will last remain to be seen, and of course for how long the race to the bottom in the price war will continue in China.

Beijing Autoshow 2024 - 05

There was however something else that I experienced when exploring the Xiaomi. While waiting for my turn sit in the drivers’ seats, I had for women in their, I would assume, late 20s, early 30s checking out the car. When they entered the car, their focus went immediately to the various screens. I observed the same with several influencers that sat in the car. When I asked them, I was told the physical design of the car, and the perceived quality, was much more a commodity to them. They expected it to be a certain standard, but the UX and connectivity was what they were really interested in. They were the brand shaper; the aesthetics of the car were secondary. I saw a very similar behavior with many other brands and cars that we sat in. It really got me thinking on how different the markets and their respective cultures are developing and how our cars and most importantly the manufacturers will have to respond to the specific challenges. It seems that the world of the global car is certainly over after being in Beijing. There will be Chinese cars, European and North American cars – all with their very own UX and build with the local users in mind. And this will continue to be a massive challenge for automotive design departments all over the world. The role of the car design studios is changing, and probably with even more speed than we anticipated.

Beijing Autoshow 2024 - 06

Auto China 2024, as the Beijing show is officially called, alongside its sister show in Shanghai, has now become the world’s biggest car show – very fitting for one of if not the biggest car market. It is however not taken up the crown for the show that will show us the future of mobility and vehicles. That title is still up for grabs. In terms of design innovation and new ideas, I will have to say the Japan Mobility Show 2023 has given us a very interesting glimpse on what Shanghai and Beijing could become if especially the Chinese brands are developing into their next design level.