BEIJING -- The auto show in Beijing this month was my fourth Auto China show. It was just as loud as the other three and just as crowded on press day.
This year's show had one big difference, however: The styling and quality of the domestic-brand cars are vastly improved.
"They got it," was a phrase I heard from a several industry people, including Ray Bierzynski, executive director of China engineering for GM Asia Pacific. Ray started coming to these shows the same year I did. Then, he was president of the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center, or PATAC, GM's joint-venture design and engineering center in Shanghai.
"The quality of the materials, the fit and the finish," are much better, he said. "They are leveraging the global supplier base."
Better design was very evident. Many China automakers are using Italian design houses now, including Pinanfarina and Bertone, and it shows. Gone are many boring econoboxes. Sinuous curves and sexy headlamps are in.
Geely Automobile Group's use of Italian styling has transformed the look of its models. The long, curvy station wagon at the Geely stand could just as easily have been on display at any global automaker's stand.
The ability of local designers was on display, as well. Guangzhou Honda Automobile Co. showed off a sleek blue hatchback developed in China. It will be the first model to carry a Guangzhou Honda badge. That is, the intellectual property belongs to the Guangzhou Honda joint venture, not Honda Motor Co.
Volkswagen AG has two partners in China, China FAW Group Corp. and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Both showed off models designed in China for China. Some of the engineering and technology came from Germany, but all the styling was done in China, said Stefan Krauss, senior manager of the technical development division for Volkswagen (China) Investment Co.
To be sure, many Chinese brands still have some work to do on their interiors. And I didn't drive any of the cars. Performance and quality issues are still common.
But considering how far they have come in just four years, I figure where the exterior and interiors are concerned, we soon won't be able to tell the difference between the Chinese brands and the foreign brands.
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