Chinese motorists' preference for new-energy vehicles (NEVs) and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) is well-known, and it has driven solid growth momentum in those segments in recent years, but a new trend seems to be gaining traction.
At the 2017 Guangzhou Auto Show, which kicked off in South China's Guangdong Province on November 17, the preference for NEVs and SUVs remained intact, evidenced in carmakers' continued focus on those areas at the weeklong show.
However, talk of Internet-connected cars, or smart cars, consumed much of the attention.
"I think the biggest topic at this year's Guangzhou Auto Show was Internet-connected cars and intelligent cars. We don't talk about cars like we have always done, we talk about them more like devices that you can drive as well as connect to your smartphone or the Internet," said Wang Xin, who runs an influential online auto news site known as Auto Prophet.
Wang, who has been covering the Chinese auto industry extensively in the past few years, told the Global Times on Tuesday that almost every car company, domestic or foreign, that he covers were talking about Internet-connected cars.
At the Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC)'s stand at the auto show on Friday, a model of the company's popular Trumpchi car attracted many spectators. The car uses the latest technologies from Internet giant Tencent Holdings, which enable the vehicle to follow voice commands to do everything from rolling up or down the windows to sending messages to finding a parking spot.
GAC and Tencent agreed in September to collaborate on Internet-connected cars with Tencent providing its robust technological capabilities in areas such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI).
On November 16, just a day ahead of the official kickoff of the Guangzhou Auto Show, at a lavish press event attended by executives of the two companies, local officials in Guangzhou and hundreds of reporters, GAC and Tencent debuted an Internet-connected intelligent car named iSpace based on a Tencent "AI in Car" system.
"The fact that GAC and Tencent took only two months to achieve such results in the intelligent and Internet connectivity areas reflects the close coordination and great effectiveness of the cooperation," Feng Xingya, general manager of GAC, said at the event.
GAC is hardly the only carmaker that showcased Internet-connected cars.
Dongfeng Yueda Kia Motor Co, a joint venture among China's Dongfeng Motor Corp, Yueda Group and South Korea's Kia Motors, debuted an Internet-connected, intelligent SUV called NP. A China-only model will be launched in 2018.
The company also launched a new version of the Kia Forte, which is the company's first car to carry Baidu Inc's voice-based vehicle interaction system DuerOS, which enables connectivity among the driver, the car and the Internet, Dongfeng Yueda Kia Motor said in a press release.
Baidu and Hyundai Motors, the parent company of Kia, announced a joint plan to develop Internet-connected cars based on Baidu's Internet technologies.
Also at the Guangzhou event, several other carmakers, including SAIC Motor's brand Roewe, showcased new models with features such as Internet connectivity and intelligent driving, while others were talking about their strategies in those areas.
"Even those who don't have any new models to show here like to talk about how they are focused on Internet-connected intelligent cars and how much they are going to invest in the area," an industry expert, who would only give his surname as Li, told the Global Times on November 17.
"I guess it's a new trend after we heard so much about NEVs and SUVs and how fast they have been growing in the past few years," said Li, who claimed he had heard "enough talk of Internet connectivity and intelligent driving for one day."
Behind the carmakers' and Internet companies' push for Internet-connected intelligent cars is a massive base of consumers who want their cars connected to their smartphones and the Internet, experts said.