China Insights

See the future of auto at Shanghai Auto Show

Anna Amador

Head of Auto Research

Auto 25.04.2019 / 15:20

DS cover 2 col

All future designs of automobiles should come from listening to consumers. Leading brands are translating consumers’ voices into reality.

China’s biggest annual auto show is held in turns between Beijing and Shanghai. This year, it’s Shanghai’s turn: The 18th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition ends today after it opened on April 16. With more than 200 new models/concept cars unveiled at the show, what can we learn from this year’s show?

Leading brands are translating consumers’ voices into reality

Shanghai Auto Show being the biggest auto industry event at the world’s largest auto market, which is China where 23.7 million passenger cars were sold in 2018, auto brands are keen to show off their interpretation of what future cars will look like here.

From quite many concept cars that we’ve seen, some near mass production, a common element is that they all have neat and minimalistic interior designs, such as BMW Vision I NEXT and Audi’s AI:ME.

BMW Vision I NEXT Interior Design Sketch 1 


BMW Vision iNEXT Design Sketches

BMW Vision I NEXT Front GM 

BMW Vision iNEXT at Shanghai Auto Show

Audi AIME Interior Design Sketch 1

Audi AI:ME – Design photo

Audi AIME Live Photo 1

Audi AI:ME at Shanghai Auto Show

These concept cars remind me of what consumers have been telling us about interiors: they want more efficient use of space, less clutter, more second row leg rooms, good visibility and more storage rooms and features, but all concealed.

One reason is that they want their vehicle to be a multi-functional space, or as their second mobile home, powered by smart technologies.

Shanghai-based new energy start-up vehicle company AIWAYS shows off a quite bold design in their U7 ion MPV: The second row seats can be turned 180 degrees to face the third row so four riders at the back can talk face to face. Its mobile console includes a touchscreen, a table, a refrigerator, among others. It can be moved to the middle of the second and third rows and elevated to become a table for the four passengers. A couple of years ago, I heard people wish to be able to play Mahjong in their car. U7 ion, if mass produced in this format, will definitely realize their dream.

AIWAYS U7 Ion Design Sketch 1 

AIWAYS U7 ion design

AIWAYS U7 Ion Design Sketch 2

AIWAYS U7 ion design


AIWAYS U7 ion at Shanghai Auto Show

Responding to an autonomous driving future

One big question hanging on every car brand’s mind is: how would autonomous driving change my future car design?

French premium brand DS’ answer is its breath-taking concept car X E-Tense. Touting the tag line: avant-garde technology meets the flair of French design, X E-Tense is a bold concept: it’s asymmetric, it’s lightless (with large areas of bodyworks becoming light sources), it’s half roofless half cocoon, it’s three-seat, it’s of your choice: you can choose to drive the 1360 horsepower in the open cockpit or sit back in the cocoon and enjoy the autonomous ride.

DS Rear Full 

DS Light Full 

DS X E-TENSE studio photos

For BMW, their BMW Vision iNEXT comes from their answer to the question: “What does a vehicle look like which no longer needs to be driven by a person but can be if desired?” According to Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for Development: “The possibilities opened up by autonomous driving and ever-expanding connectivity enable a whole new range of experiences and ways of shaping a journey.

“With this in mind, we have designed the all-electric BMW Vision iNEXT as a mobile environment that enhances quality of life, a new ‘Favourite Space’ in which we can be ourselves and relax. Indeed, all of BMW’s endeavours will continue to revolve around people – and their needs and desires when it comes to mobility – in the future,”

The philosophy has been reflected by the concept car BMW Vision iNEXT. Again, using the interior design as example. I was initially confused by the shape of the passenger seat at the front row: why was it bended backward?

But when I saw the photo from the website, I fully understood that it’s because the design was meant to allow better interaction between the front row passenger with the backrow riders. 

BMW Vision I NEXT Interior Design Sketch 2

BMW Vision iNEXT design graphic

Changes from inside out

As the driving environment changes, changes are not only limited to insides.

One small change I have notices on a couple of concept cars is the diminishing and even disappearance of side mirrors.

Such as Infiniti’s QS Inspiration

Infiniti QS Inspiration GM

Such as: BMW Vision iNEXT

BMW Vision I NEXT Side Mirror GM

Audi’s newly launched e-tron SUV has adopted virtual exterior mirrors to reduce the vehicle width by 13 centimetres and achieve better aero-acoustical performances as well as more spectacular shape. It reminds me of similar practices in India but for a totally different reason: because people have to drive on super narrow or highly crowded roads, many drivers would fold their side mirrors to avoid getting damaged. Otherwise they’ll need to frequently replace side mirrors and that’s a bit expensive!  

Audi AIME On Road

It is reported to be the second mass produced Audi model that offers this virtual mirror feature. The images will be shown at a screen at the bottom of the A pillars. Of course, it depends on how quickly each country’s regulator approves it.

Audi AIMI Virtual Mirror

Audi e-tron virtual side mirror official photo

Another trend I noticed is that quite a number of new models displayed at quite central positions of booths came in greyish blue colours, such as Lincoln Nautilus, BMW X7, etc. The choice of colour resonates with a BASF “2018 - 2019 Automotive Colour Trends” report, where shades of grey and blue are the focal point of the collection of 65 colours for automotive surfaces.

BASF 2018 - 2019 Auto Colour Pallette

BASF’s Automotive Colour Trends 2018 – 2019 Pallet

As the mode of mobility diversifies, services like car sharing, ride hailing and even autonomous driving increasingly become a routine part of our lives, the role of cars is gradually shifting away from a personally owned object to a component of a public transportation solution. BASF believes cars following its colour pallet will increase these cars’ universal appeal so make them blend better into these new mobility solutions.

BASF was also promoting the functionality features of their paint which can be detected by all types of sensors in the increasingly autonomous world.

Source: Kantar

Editor's notes

* All photos were either taken by the author or download from auto brands' official website for editorial use;

* To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of EV market in China and other parts of the world, please contact us;

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