Shanghai Motor Show threatens to make New York redundant

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Shanghai Convention Center was little more than a rice paddy, but this week, the sprawling facility will play host to what has rapidly become one of the world’s most important auto shows.

By a quirk of the calendar, this year’s big Chinese car show not only overlaps but threatens to overwhelm the New York Auto Show and its ability to garner valuable media time – a development that echoes the rapidly transformation occurring in the global automotive business.

Michael Dunne, the founder of Automotive Resources Asia – today a part of J.D. Power and Associates – recalls his first trip to China, barely two decades ago, when the roads were ruled by bicycles, motorbikes and buses, and the sight of an automobile was enough to draw everyone’s attention. Today, the most populous nation on Earth is also the biggest automotive market, having surpassed the U.S. two years ago, never to look back.

There will be a number of major launches that might have, until now, been steered to New York. Yet few could have anticipated that boom…Even as recently as 2007, skeptics wondered just how much more growth the Chinese car market could support. But that year was a milestone for a number of reasons. One that many initially missed was the decision by several major Western automakers to stage significant global previews at the Shanghai Motor Show for the first time. That included the debut of the BMW CS Concept car – which would only eventually return to the U.S. and a domestic preview at New York’s Jacob Javits convention center…

Few will downplay the significance of the 2011 Shanghai Motor Show. By one estimate, as many as 100 different electric vehicles will be displayed by the scores of manufacturers participating in the event. That’s no surprise considering the Beijing government’s increasing emphasis on battery power to help it overcome the country’s endemic pollution problems – and to reduce the Chinese dependence upon foreign oil…

But there’s no question that the days when the U.S. and Europe dominated the auto show circuit are over – much as the old, industrialized markets are no longer the drivers of automotive sales growth.

For Americans there even was a time back in the day when the European auto shows were meaningless. Volkwagen and Volvo changed that forever. The last people to respond were the Detroit Big 3.

This time around give credit where credit is due. Detroit iron – especially General Motors – were quick to respond and even quicker to profit from demand in China that still looks to the United States for economic guidance. Recognizing the difference between what’s good and what’s bad – but, not rejecting the knowledge from either.

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