Shanghai Auto Show - New Mecca Of The Global Car Industry

The Shanghai Auto Show is now the biggest car exhibition in the world, surpassing Geneva, Frankfurt and Detroit. The show will premiere some 75 new car models including Volkswagen's highly anticipated new Beetle .

The Shanghai Auto Show
The Shanghai Auto Show
Johnny Erling

Some 2,000 exhibitors and suppliers are expected at this week's Shanghai Auto Show. Spread over some 230,000 square meters of exhibition space, it is now the world's largest auto event: the shows of Geneva, Frankfurt and Detroit all pale in comparison to that of Shanghai. The world's biggest car market is finally also home to the largest gathering of the automotive industry.

An indication of just how important the event has become is the fact that 75 new models will be launched on the world stage here between now and April 28, the final day of the show. On Monday, on the eve of the official April 19 opening, several companies already staged debuts. Volkswagen, for example, introduced its new Beetle.

More than 70 years after the debut of the iconic car, Volkswagen is bringing a third edition to the market. The car will be available from the fall, announced VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. No official price has been cited, but behind closed doors, a target price tag of €17,000 ($24,000) has been discussed.

Daimler presented its new A-Class, which Mercedes hopes to pit against the compact class. US auto giant General Motors, on the other hand, unveiled its first car developed solely for the Chinese market. Kevin Wale, president of GM China, presented the Baojun 630, which will cost between € 7,000-10,400 ($9,980-$14,827). Ford is also planning a number of launches this week. Other notable debuts will include Chevrolet's new Malibu and the Audi Q3. From within Chinese ranks, manufacturer SAIC is poised to introduce the Roewe SUV W5.

In the Chinese market, Volkswagen leads the way. The group increased its sales by a fifth in the first quarter of this year to almost 550,000 cars, and now has 18 percent market share. By comparison, Ford - which entered the Chinese market much later - must today be satisfied with a mere two percent market share. Through VW, Audi, Skoda, and Seat, the Volkswagen Group distributes 21 models in China.

On top of that, imports are increasing quickly. By 2013, the Volkswagen Group wants to introduce another 22 new models to the Chinese market and expand its production capacity greatly in the country. "Our factories can't keep up. Today, we're at 135 percent capacity already, despite our nine production sites," says Volkswagen China CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann.

In 2010, VW, with nearly two million cars sold, accounted for at least a third of total group sales. Despite reinvestment of initial gains, the company has contributed significantly to the group's profits. Volkswagen has, in conjunction with its partners SAIC and FAW, invested about ten billion euros ($14 billion) in China since 1984. It has sold some ten million cars, and hopes to expand its commitment to some 10.6 billion euros ($14.8 billion) by 2015. "We can pay off of the cash flow," says Neumann. "We will be able to sell three million cars here in 2015. I'm willing to bet on it.

At the Shanghai show, Volkswagen and GM are the market leaders. Together with their partners, "Shanghai SAIC" and "Changchuns FAW" they occupy two of the 13 exhibition halls.

In total, the show has 20 percent more exhibitors than it did in 2009. Despite the recent earthquake, all the Japanese manufacturers are present. "Anything with rank and reputation in the industry is represented here," says the German organizer of the show, Hans-Joerg Geduhn.

The other German manufacturers and suppliers that maintain 190 car plants, production and assembly sites in China today are also heavily represented at the show. According to the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes are poised to grow faster than China's overall market in the first quarter. In the luxury sector, the German manufacturers dominate three quarters of the market.

However, for the Chinese manufacturers themselves, the situation is quite different. They seem to be the biggest losers in their own market. Many small manufacturers of cheap Chinese brands are currently struggling with large sales declines. The Shenzhen-based company BYD dropped 41 percent in sales in March. The company began to slash prices in February – possibly the first sign of a future price war.

In contrast with its foreign competitors, China's car market is fragmented into hundreds of unprofitable auto producers. This is also reflected in the chaos of new model development. In 2011, 72 new models will be introduced to the Chinese market - 50 of these will come from local producers.

Apart from the new models on display, the major theme of the exhibition in Shanghai is the growing field of electrical mobility. Everyone is waiting to hear the Beijing State Council decision regarding a new 10-year plan. China hopes to be the world market leader for hybrid and electric cars by 2020. The first step would be to set up production facilities for one-million energy saving cars by 2015. Beijing would support this development with the equivalent of eleven billion Euros ($15.6 billion).

Volkswagen, in a race with the Daimler Group, has adapted a three-phase strategy by which it hopes to be the Chinese market leader in electric vehicles by 2018. With its two joint ventures in Shanghai and Changchun, VW wants to build two types of electric cars that could be ready for series production as soon as 2013. "We're keeping a few options open," says VW CEO Neumann, in order to be ready when China takes off with its electric market. In Shanghai, VW will also introduce its first electric scooter. The market for battery-powered bicycles and scooters in China has "grown phenomenally," in recent years, says Neumann.

Amidst all of the hype in Shanghai, however, critics in China are raising their voices. "Do we really need the biggest automotive exhibition in the world?" ask commentators in the Beijing newspaper XinJingBao. Shanghai is bigger than Detroit, Paris, Frankfurt and ten times as large as Tokyo or Geneva. "But the real innovations in the automotive technology, the trends, the fashions - they're all coming from these other cities." Even in the automotive industry, they argue, China is a victim of the maxim of growth at any price.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Marc van der Chijs

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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