China Insights

Kantar expert reviews 2016 Beijing Auto Show

Guillaume Saint

Global Automotive Lead

Auto 29.04.2016 / 05:05

Porsche main picture

How are Chinese brands doing? Who is the leader in the new energy vehicle sector? Which is the best booth?

China being the world’s largest auto market, its annual auto show, which is held in Shanghai and Beijing in turns, has become one of the most important events for the world’s auto industry. There are several auto groups with multiple mainstream car brands, and it is always a challenge to create differentiated positioning for them and communicate it clearly to the public.At the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, which runs from April 25 till May 4 at China International Exhibition Centre, two groups of car manufacturers have been successful in creating distinctive branded atmosphere to position their brands differently for the general public.

PSA, for example, have designed the booth of Peugeot to highlight its high-end, innovative positioning to communicate on dynamism and driving excellence benefit for car drivers. On a different territory, Citroen has moved from pure technology to technology that directly benefit to drivers’ wellbeing and to a more sustainable and responsible industry. Visitors can immediately perceive the emphasis on environment friendlies, recycle material, serenity and comfort through the journey.


Dongfeng Peugeot’s new 308


The most eye-catching words on Citroen booth is “Comfort”, “Human”, “Smile” and “Design”.

雪铁龙Linda Jackson

Citroen global CEO Linda Jackson (lady in middle) at the Citroen booth.

The same can be said for Hyundai Motor Group which owns Hyundai and KIA brands. We can see Hyundai has been presented as a high-status main brand, emphasizing status, outstanding ride for matured people.


Beijing Hyundai’ sedan Verna which was launched at the exhibition

KIA was positioned as a much more dynamic sporty brand full of excitement for younger people, or younger-minded people. The eye catching and entertaining Kia X – Car zone, showcasing the X-men partnership and allowing visitors to make X-type pictures illustrate this clear positioning towards entertaining excitement.


Female model dressed up as X-Man’s Mystique at KIA booth


KIA’s booth is decorated with red and black to emphasize its adventurous and risk-taking spirit. It is also a sponsor of UEFA Euro 2016.

For the first time in a very long time, multiple brands under one group have been so clearly positioned. PSA and Hyundai Motor Group have set very good examples.

The continuous rise of Chinese confidence

Last year, I visited the Shanghai Auto Show and was very much impressed by the quality of most of Chinese brands. This year in Beijing, we can see that their confidence have grown even stronger from last year. Specific design expression that can be seen consistently across the model range, expansion of the NEV models, and self-confidence in shaking the traditional naming of powertrain technology as compared to technology named from coined words, such as Honda’s FunTec and Ford’s EcoBoost.

BYD’s 542 strategy refers to that since its announcement on April 20, 2014 at 2014 Beijing Auto Show, all BYD vehicles will meet: 1) accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h within 5 seconds; 2) full-time four wheel drive; 3) fuel consumption less than 2L per 100 km.

Changan’s 518 strategy refers to: 1) by 2025, its full EV and plug-in vehicles can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h within 5 seconds; 2) by 2025, its plug-in vehicles’ fuel consumption will be less than 1L per 100 km; 3) by 2025, its full EV vehicles’ per ton power consumption will be 8 kwh per 100 km.

They’ve continued to remain on the course they started to pursue that we saw in last year’s Shanghai Auto Show.


Changan’s 518 new energy technology display

New energy vehicle

The trend of new energy vehicles has continued from last year’s Shanghai Auto Show, and has become even stronger. We’ve seen on every booth that every brand has a new energy car to show. New energy is no longer optional – it’s a mandate. If a car brand wants to succeed in China, it has to have new energy models, given the increasingly strong push from Chinese central and local governments.

We’ve seen all options have been represented in the Beijing Auto Show. If I have to choose a brand as being the leader in new energy area, I would pick Toyota: not from a technology perspective, but because of its go-to market pricing strategy to sell the hybrid versions of Corolla and Levin at almost the same price as the gasoline versions (ICE). This is an innovation in pricing strategy, because we know that the costs of hybrid powertrain are much higher than traditional ones. The bold move is Toyota’s statement of solid commitment to stay a step ahead in China’s auto market.



BMW, Mercedes-Benz

For the premium brands, BMW has the clearest commitment on new energy, its booth expressing a bigger statement in this field than Mercedes-Benz and Audi. BMW has divided its booth into two parts: the left part is all about EV and hybrid sedans, such as i8 and i3. On the other side is all about driving excitement, as its big slogan on the booth said: sheer driving pleasure. BMW displays new X4 and M series models as examples.

Through this arrangement, we can see the brand expresses clearly its two strategic directions: continuous commitment towards driving pleasure and also specific focus on the new energy commitment.


BMW Sheer Driving Pleasure

It is interesting to see this year Mercedes-Benz has made crystal clear its outstanding status as a leadership auto brand. For the visual, they used very large space of elegant black, extra-large silver three-pointed star logo, and the big LED screen that shows oversized images of its vehicles that fit the whole screen. Visitors can see that Mercedes-Benz brand is all about “me” – it’s not just about its newly launched a personalized service in China, but also as a brand positioning. “Anytime and anywhere, it’s all about me.” Mercedes me Sanlitun. Mercedes-Benz: The best or nothing.

Every element on their stand stresses that Mercedes-Benz is the ultimate leadership auto brand. Simply magnificent.Daqi“大气”.


奔驰 The Best Or Nothing

奔驰Anytime Anywhere


Super luxury brands

For the super luxury brands, compared with what I saw at last year’s Shanghai Auto Show when it had a big fleet of SUV on display, I’m quite happy to see Porsche is back to its DNA with real sports car put upfront. It displayed 911 at the fore front of the booth. Also it launched three new models (718 Cayman, 718 Boxster and 911 Targa 4) into the original soul of Porsche: fast, two-seat, sport.


Some roads have two-way traffic. Some other super luxury brands, such as Maserati and Bentley, promoted the expansion of their portfolio by introducing Levante and Bentayga SUVs. I can understand why they’re doing this because they have to reach a minimum volume of cars produced to exist on the growing markets, such as China and India, but these new models are somehow stretching their brands’ DNA towards less differentiating territory. As a true passionate of ultimate driving machines, I really need time to get used to these portfolio expansion.


Breakthrough companies: Tesla, LeSee

From what I’ve seen, breakthrough companies, such as Tesla and LeSee, are mastering in driving attention onto themselves, no matter it’s news about the products (like Tesla with astonishing Model X at the exhibition), its business model (everybody heard about the out of the box pre ordering for 325 000 Tesla model 3 that allows the brand to leverage an amazing million cash from deposit and US$14 billion potential sales), or its founder vision and personality.


At LeSee, the company has successfully built up attention and buzz for its ecosystem, which includes mobile phone, TV sets, content network, naming right sponsorship of China Super League football club Beijing Guo’an, and partnership with Aston Martin. We saw Jia Yueting, the founder of LeSee, drew a very large crowd on the stand. 


For these breakthrough brands, they have to be viral and create a very high-volume of buzz all the time. They need to be trailblazers on everything: the design and production of their cars, go-to market approach, the way they present the car, sell the car and their founders’ public image as well.

Maybe some interesting tips there for the so-called traditional OEMs to stay tuned with the fast changing marketing automotive landscape.

Booth of the show: Ford

If I have to choose the best stand of the show, I would pick Ford. Unlike some other booths which are like an enlarged and upgraded sales centre, Ford has spent a lot of efforts to create an experiential journey at their booth for people to feel and touch the experience and the excitement Ford can bring.

Ford puts niche models in the centre, SUV on one end, sedans on the other. It also created multiple small spaces at the booth where visitors can experience the brand through mini games.

The reception is very welcoming. There is no front desk blocks the entrance, the theme is for people to come to experience the brands’ progress in the past year and share it. The staff members are also very approachable – they’re the only staff members whose T-shirts say: “Please Ask Me”.


The goal of the booth design has also been well supplemented by its official WeChat subscription which calls the follows to plan a game on WeChat to win 200 tickets for the show to experience Ford technology in real person.

Behind the emphasis on interaction with fans and brand experience is Ford’s announcement to launch the FordPass service in China, which includes an “app market”, mobility personal assistant for every Ford owner, Ford loyalty points programme and four FordHubs to be opened worldwide for people to experience Ford. One FordHub will be built in Shanghai.

Source: Kantar TNS Auto, Kantar TNS

Editor's notes

* To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of China's auto market, please contact us.

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* All photos taken by Kantar staff except for the Dongfeng Peugeot new 308 photo which is from the Internet.


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