Beijing Auto Show 2012: Luxury Automakers Unveil China-Focused Editions

    With the Beijing Auto Show in full swing, the world's luxury automakers have started to roll out new models, either designed for the China market, or with China's still-growing appetite for the ultra-luxury segment in mind.
    Victoria Beckham in Beijing last year with her special-edition Evoque
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini Among Brands Introducing New Vehicles#

    With the Beijing Auto Show in full swing, the world's luxury automakers have started to roll out new models, either designed for the China market, or with China's still-growing appetite for the ultra-luxury segment in mind. Yesterday, Jing Daily took a look at Bentley's long-rumored Bentley's EXP 9 F SUV concept which, if interest is high enough in China and elsewhere, the British marque may put into production as its third product line, alongside the Mulsanne and Continental. Today, Beijingers got their first peek at another -- more overtly China-focused -- set of vehicles, which Jing Daily profiled back in February: Aston Martin's "Dragon88" DBS Volante, Virage Coupe and V8 Vantage S Coupe.

    As the name implies, Aston Martin will produce only 88 of these "Year of the Dragon" units, offering them in a suitably understated range of color schemes: Volcano Red, Amethyst Red and Champagne Gold, finishing them out with 24-carat gold brand badges. Interiors are offered in even more subtly named schemes, Spicy Red, Chancellor Red and Deep Purple, and, as we noted in February, headrests are embroidered with a dragon inspired by the Nine Dragon Wall at Beihai Park in Beijing. Other features in the Dragon88 line include a Bang and Olufsen speaker system, new 10-spoke dragon edition alloy wheels and special black brake calipers. Other exclusive design features include special grilles, but otherwise the alterations are largely cosmetic. Engine-wise, these models are the same as the standard 510bhp DBS, 490bhp Virage or 430bhp Vantage S. As expected, Aston Martin's Dragon88 won't come cheap -- it'll be priced at more than 5 million yuan (almost US$800,000), but high prices haven't scared away Chinese buyers yet. Earlier this year, the Rolls-Royce "Year of the Dragon" special edition Phantom sold out in a matter of months despite a US$1.2 million price tag.

    Continuing the "stick-a-dragon-on-it" strategy we've seen from so many brands and automakers over the past year, Jeep also debuted a Wrangler concept featuring a winding silver dragon across the hood. As Jeep Brand CEO Mike Manley said at the event, "Last year, more Jeep vehicles were sold in China than in any other country besides the U.S. and Canada," adding that it's important to design and tailor vehicles to Chinese tastes. But are Chinese consumers really that interested in dragon-festooned rides? Via CNN:

    Some consumers, like [attendee Wang Xizhen], disagreed [with Manley].

    "Just because it has a dragon on it, doesn't mean Chinese people will love it. After all, we're after going after a western brand," said Wang. "I like the subtlety of Aston Martin's dragon design, but to put a huge dragon across the entire car is going overboard."

    Other luxury automakers like Lamborghini and Range Rover have followed the lead of Bentley and used the Beijing Auto Show as a platform to unveil gas-guzzling SUVs. Yesterday, Range Rover showed off a special Evoque designed by Victoria Beckham and Land Rover's design chief, Gerry McGovern, which the British institution will deliver in October and price around £80,000 (US$129,192). Also yesterday, Lamborghini showed off its Urus SUV concept, a potential "Cayenne-killer" in China. To Lamborghini's credit, the Urus hasn't been designed to cater to any one country, as the marque still has its eyes set firmly on the US and Middle East markets. As Lamborghini R&D Director Maurizio Reggiani told Automobile Mag, “We don’t design or build cars for a single market...We build a car that’s a Lamborghini, and the market follows." Chinese auto lovers suffering from prolonged bouts of dragon fatigue can apparently rest easy.

    Other automakers positioned in the premium segment have put on their best face for the China market this week as well. Looking to take on long-time leaders Audi and BMW, GM announced plans to bring five to 10 new Cadillac models to China over the course of the next four years and build at least one China-based factory that will produce Cadillacs alone. This, the automaker says, will lower per-unit costs and make the brand more profitable in an increasingly important market. For its part, Jaguar unveiled a variation of its XJ sedan yesterday in Beijing. Called the XJ Ultimate, the well-outfitted cruiser features some tweaks that Chinese consumers will definitely appreciate -- among them a back seat with embedded iPads -- and others that likely won't be used as often, such as a Champagne cooler and hidden Champagne flutes. Not content to rest on its laurels, BMW also debuted a China-focused version of its 3 Series sedan featuring the ubiquitous longer wheelbase that has become almost de facto in the country.

    So far, despite high profile launches and soundbytes about how important the Chinese market is for major automakers, this year's Beijing Auto Show has been short on surprises. Top marques continue to slap dragons on "China edition" models, pollution and traffic concerns haven't dented their enthusiasm about SUVs, and Chinese brands are still trying to turn heads. While we may not see many game changers over the course of this installment, there could be a few bright spots before the event closes. But we wouldn't bet on it.

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