Regarded as China's oldest motor show, Auto Shanghai has become the masterpiece of new inventions in the automotive world as much as the expansion of Chinese car brands and EVs are concerned.
Not that alone, but manufacturers displayed some heavy hitters, with most Chinese marques taking the stand to showcase EV concepts, updates, variants, and third-party conversions from all sites.
This is just evidence of why Chinese car manufacturers have recently been setting the bar high with high-tech vehicles and electrification as the nation and the world move towards one common goal: zero emissions.
With all the Covid-19 restrictions lifted in the People's Republic, we jetted to the 20th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, aka Auto Shanghai, with Chery South Africa.
The show is challenging to comprehend, with 320,000 square metres of exhibition space, over 1,000 exhibitors, and 150 press conferences displaying over 100 new cars from international brands.
The truth is that the Chery brand has made great strides in the automotive fold ever since it opened its doors in 1997.
As China's 9th largest vehicle manufacturer, it's not the biggest, but it's been infused with new life since its re-introduction to the local market in 2021. Looking at the numbers and quality of cars, it's safe to say that it's on the right track, and there's more we can look forward to.
Locally, the Chery line-up consists of the Tiggo 4 Pro, Tiggo 7 Pro, Tiggo 8 Pro and Tiggo 8 Pro Max alongside its luxury Omoda brand launched in SA in April. At the show, Chery revealed its all-new premium-luxury Jaecoo brand, whose models consist of the J7 and J9 variants that heavily emphasise style, technology and driving manners.
The big news, though, is that the J7 is earmarked to launch in SA either in the fourth quarter of the year or the first quarter of 2024.
While details regarding the J7 remain coy at this stage, Chery says a TGDI petrol engine coupled with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission shared throughout the Chery banner will power the model. As for the 7-seater J9, Chery says it is closely watching the market to see if there is a demand for such an SUV.
Chery also plans to expand the Tiggo 7 Pro range by adding the Max variant, which, like the Tiggo 8 Pro Max, features a sportier etiquette and will slot above the Executive variant.
Like the Tiggo 8 Pro Max, it will be powered by a 1.6-litre TGDi powerplant and available in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive drivetrains. It is expected to launch in Mzansi in the year's third quarter.
In July, Chery plans to introduce the updated Tiggo 8 Pro model. While the changes are subtle, the updates come in the form of a new grille with an illuminated badge, a reworked front fascia and a rear end that now boasts fresh taillights. The update will be followed by an all-wheel-drive variant sometime before the end of the year.
On the Omoda side, a more potent model powered by a slightly bigger 1.6-litre engine will launch sometime in the fourth quarter of the year and will be sold in minimal numbers, either with all-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive configurations.
The current Omoda range consists of the C5, powered by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine that pumps out 115 kW and 230 Nm channelled to the front axle via a CVT transmission. Due to their whining nature, we don't expect the same transmission to be featured in the AWD variants.
After a short stint at the helm of the Omoda C5 AWD, Jaecoo J7 and J9 at the parking area of a theme park, the models feature loads of standard kit, commendable ride quality, and spirited engines.
While the Chery brand remains committed to the South African market, it further aims to expand its product portfolio as it looks into venturing into the large, medium and light bakkie segments. That said, the marque is currently developing at least two unibody-based bakkies for the left-hand and right-hand drive markets based on the Tiggo SUVs.
The brand also aims to challenge other stalwarts in the bakkie fold, such as the GWM P-Series of Chinese origins, Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max, to name a few, with its body-on-frame product. This move will help the Chinese manufacturer fill a gap that currently exists in the market.
Our time in China saw us visiting Chery's headquarters in Wuhu, where we participated in design surveys for its next-gen Tiggo 8, scheduled to arrive on our shores sometime in 2025. It features a fresh new look and the latest technology, including hybridised powertrains.
When asked if South Africa can expect an assembly plant that could see the brand exporting vehicles throughout the African continent, Tony Liu, managing director for Chery SA, said a lot needs to take place first, and a significant shift has to come from the government before the Chinese can look into that.
"We are slowly watching the local market and the government policy on setting up an assembly plant. Also, any form of assistance for Chinese manufacturers to get better benefits in the future could help Chery build up a factory in SA," says Liu.
This subject remains important at Chery as nearly all manufacturers aim to add some form of electrification to its portfolio thanks to widespread bans worldwide that will see ICE-powered vehicles phased out in the coming years.
At the show, Chery detailed its electrification ambition consisting of hybridised models and new energy vehicles (NEVs). Regarding NEVs, Chery says an electrification strategy to electrify its product portfolio is on the cards, and it's currently developing a NEV platform that will see more fully-electric vehicles developed from the ground up. These will be powered by CATL's Ener-Q first sodium-ion batteries, thus making Chery the first vehicle manufacturer to use such technology.
At the same time, South Africans can look forward to the launch of a new fully-electric model as the brand focuses on venturing into the fast-growing EV market segment. Details surrounding the model remain scarce, but at the same event, Chery premiered its standalone
EV brand dubbed iCar, which the marque says is aimed at the younger generation.
The EV brand aims to launch six models for the Chinese market in the coming months; however, local details aren't known at this stage.