Chinese automakers show off concept sportscars, amid auto market slump

GAC unveiled its electric sports car prototype on Sept. 26, 2020, at the Beijing auto show.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

BEIJING — Some of the flashiest items Chinese companies had on display at the first major auto show since the coronavirus pandemic were concept sports cars.

While vehicle sales for state-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) fell 9.87% from a year ago in the first eight months of 2020, following a decline of nearly 4% last year, the company has been developing an electric sports car called “Enpulse.”

The company revealed the glimmering metallic vehicle to media on Saturday at the Beijing auto show, which was delayed by five months due to the outbreak of Covid-19. 

The convertible electric sports vehicle features a yellow interior with striped pink sections, evoking a rainbow. The car was developed by GAC’s global design team, particularly designers from the company’s Los Angeles office, according to GAC.

“Before the advent of cars, traveling afar was ambitious,” Zhang Fan, vice president of design, GAC R&D, said at Saturday’s launch event, according to an official translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

“Before the advent of electric vehicles, making sports cars accessible to everyone was also ambitious,” he said, adding, “We hope that the Enpulse will chart the course for the realization of our ambition and make the classic sports car romance accessible to everyone.”

GAC’s vehicle sales climbed double-digits in July and August from a year ago. The company still hopes to achieve its goal of 3% growth this year.

Also attracting a bit of a crowd at the Beijing auto show was state-owned Hongqi’s S9 sports car. The hybrid turquoise vehicle was first unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show in September 2019, according to state media, and claims a maximum speed of 400 kilometers-an-hour. 

Chinese state-owned brand Hongqi showed off its prototype for its S9 sportscar at the 2020 Beijing auto show.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Hongqi, which means “red flag” in Mandarin, is a subsidiary of state-owned auto group FAW.

The brand announced in April it will set up a joint venture with New York-based SILK EV to manufacture the Hongqi S luxury sports car series, according to state media. The article also said Hongqi sold more than 25,000 cars in the first quarter of the year, or an 88% gain over the same period in 2019.  

Auto sales in the world’s largest car market are down 9.7% for the first eight months of the year from the same period in 2019, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

But the market has recovered in recent weeks. Auto sales rose 11.6% in August from a year ago, with sales of pure electric vehicles growing more quickly with a gain of 25.6%, according to the ministry.

Automakers often develop high-performance cars to test and exhibit innovative technology. At last year’s auto show in Shanghai, BMW displayed its first electric race car, the iFE.18, shortly after it had completed a race. 

At the 2020 Beijing auto show, Chinese electric vehicle start-up Nio also displayed its sports car prominently at the front of its display area. The EP9 was launched in 2016 and the following year set a record for the fastest self-driving electric car, a feat the company claimed took only four months of technology and software development.

Chinese electric vehicle start-up Nio welcomed visitors to its exhibit at the 2020 Beijing auto show with a display of the Nio EP9 sportscar.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

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