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Automakers strut stuff at Beijing auto show

Published April 23, 2010


As product development becomes more global and Western automakers play an increasingly stronger role in Asian markets, the Beijing and Shanghai auto shows are becoming more relevant for Canadian new-car buyers.

Alternating between the two major Chinese cities each April, it’s Beijing’s turn this year to host China’s annual international show.

Wheels will have a full report next Saturday but here’s a preview of some of the show’s debuts that may come to Canada:

- Mercedes-Benz will debut its CLS Shooting Break concept. With its fifth door, the Shooting Break looks like a rival to BMW’s 5 Series Gran Turismo.

Mercedes will also preview an all-turbocharged CLS engine lineup. Expect a 3.5-litre V6 with “over” 300 hp, a 4.6-litre V8 with “around” 435 hp and a 5.5-litre AMG V8 with “up to” 563 hp that replaces the current 6.2-litre model.

Expect to see a sedan in addition to this hatchback when the next-gen production CLS is unveiled, perhaps this fall at the Paris auto show.

China has become General Motors’ largest market. And reports have the U.S. automaker debuting two new cars in Beijing.

First up is the new compact sedan based on the Opel Astra called the Buick Excelle. Sharing a platform with this year’s Cavalier-replacing Chevrolet Cruze, the Excelle is North America-bound next year as a 2012 model.

The second GM debut is a new Chevrolet-badged MPV concept, said to be powered by the same extended-range electric power train as the Volt.

This vehicle appears to be smaller than the forthcoming Chevy Orlando mini-minivan and could be a roomier alternative to the four-seat Volt.

Audi is set to debut its largest car in China: the long-wheelbase version of its new A8 luxury sedan The new A8 L is about 150 mm longer than the regular-length model that debuted earlier this year.

A 500 hp W12 will be the sole engine at launch (diesel and gas-powered engines will eventually be available) as well as high-tech treats to coddle rear-seat occupants like seats that massage, folding ottomans and a huge central tunnel that contains everything from a folding table to a refrigerator.

Although details have already been released, Beijing will also be the official debut of the latest in a long line of Ferrari GTOs.

Ostensibly a street-legal bridge between the production 599 GTB Fiorano and the track-only 599XX, the new 599 GTO harkens back to the original 250 GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) from the 1960s and the hoary 288 GTO of the 1980s.

Power from the 6.0-litre V12 is up from 612 to 661 hp; torque up a slight nine lb.-ft. gain to 457. Matched with a 195 kg weight-reduction program (down to 1,495 kg), the new GTO can go from 0-to-96 km/h in a quick 3.35 seconds.

Gas prices expected to rise

Before the autumn of 2007, the fear in Canada of paying more than $1.50 a litre for gasoline was very real. Yet one benefit of the current economic slowdown has been a reduction in overall consumption and, subsequently, a hold on rising prices at the pumps.

As of April 20, the average price for regular grade gas in Canada was $1.03, according to M.J. Ervin & Associates.

But an improving economy is causing more demand for gas, which experts are predicting will continue and force up prices even further.

Even though new car buyers have recently been moving to smaller cars, hybrids and diesels, the U.S. demand for gasoline set an all-time record for March – more than 9.3 million barrels of gas per day – according to the American Petroleum Institute.

And the trend is expected to continue this summer.

It’s “abundantly clear that supply is not an issue with the higher gasoline prices we’ve seen,” said the institute’s chief economist, John Felmy. “Sharply higher crude oil prices are driving that, and they continue to put upward pressure on the price at the pump.”

A reminder: those figures are for March. With the peak summer travel period approaching, expect higher gasoline prices through the year.

VW pins hopes on Golf EV

While other automakers like Ford, Toyota, Honda and General Motors have led the way bringing gasoline-electric hybrids to market, Volkswagen’s only hybrid to date is its mid-size SUV Touareg, just launched at last month’s Geneva auto show.

More hybrid VWs are on the way. In a bold move, though, to gain market share in the electric-battery driven vehicle market, the German automaker has made an about-turn.

Previously, VW had said its Up city car would be its first EV. But now a report in a German newspaper claims the launch of an electric version of the automaker’s best-selling Golf compact in 2013 will help the automaker “corner” the electric market, ahead of rival carmakers like Nissan-Renault, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

According to VW, the automaker sold 164,500 Golfs worldwide in 2009.

“We will take the hybrid out of its niche status with our high-volume models. In the future, the heart of the brand will also beat with electricity,” VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said in a statement.

Winterkorn has stated in the past that VW intends to be the market leader in hybrid and electric cars by 2018.

Apparently, VW will debut a test fleet of 500 electric Golfs next year.

Small Fiat minivan coming

We already knew that Italian automaker Fiat plans on selling its 500 city car in North America by early next year. And we also knew that convertible and high-performance versions are slated to come our way as well. But now, according to Automotive News, a five-door version of the 500 is in the plans as well.

Code-named L0, the largest 500 yet would be classified as a small minivan in Europe due to its hatchback and tall-roof design.

While the North American three-door 500 Fiat will go into production in Mexico later this year, the five-door is expected to be built for export in Italy on a longer and wider platform than the current model.

Although the 500 convertible will go on sale in 2011, and the high-performance Abarth version in 2012, Fiat still hasn’t announced how many, or which, Chrysler Canada dealers will sell the 500 family.

In the same report, Chrysler may also bring a subcompact sedan to North America from a Fiat factory in Serbia, to be imported in 2013.

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