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Automakers flock to China's CES tech expo
Hans Greimel | 2017/6/16

SHANGHAI -- Increasingly lukewarm about traditional car shows, the world's automakers are lately more enamored with CES, the annual technology expo in Las Vegas where they can share the spotlight with Silicon Valley¡¯s latest gadgets.

That industry strategy is now spreading to China.

Global manufacturers are realizing that what happens in Vegas doesn't need to stay in Vegas. Many now see the flashy consumer expo's fledgling Chinese spinoff, CES Asia, as a clear path into consumer awareness. 

This month, CES Asia opened its doors for a third year in Shanghai with a major automotive contingent vying for the limelight in one of the show's five sprawling halls. 

Participants included Honda, General Motors, BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. NEVS, a Chinese-backed electric vehicle startup that acquired the assets of the defunct Saab brand, showed two concepts. BYD, China¡¯s biggest producer of electric cars, also was on hand. 

Automakers say it¡¯s essential to be here because China¡¯s sheer size will determine future global mobility trends. China now is the world¡¯s biggest EV market, thanks to the government¡¯s hefty subsidies.

Moreover, Chinese consumers have a ravenous demand for the latest technological gadgetry.

Honda debuted at the show this year, showing a self-driving EV concept commuter car called the NeuV. The company also displayed other high-tech treats such as its Uni-Cub personal mobility device. 

"Chinese growth is rapidly expanding," explains Honda Executive Vice President Seiji Kuraishi. "Here at CES, there are many Chinese innovations. We want to use that as a window for open innovation." 

GM spotlighted the new Buick Velite 5 plug-in hybrid and some new car-to-home communication functions for its OnStar connectivity service. GM chose China to introduce the Velite 5, a rebadged, restyled version of the Chevrolet Volt, in April. 

Other brands also showcased technology or ideas geared toward the local market. 

Mercedes-Benz debuted an S-class Maybach concept that catered to the health and wellness of its well-heeled riders. To create a calm and relaxing aura, the cabin exudes bamboo fragrance and comes with a built-in tea ceremony in the back-seat armrest. 

A special harmony mode dims the cabin lights to a soothing purple, pipes out traditional Chinese music and fires up a hot-stone massage therapy through the seatbacks. 

BMW showed a concept that previews its vision for future autonomous driving. It features a hologram center stack that can be controlled by tapping in the air at floating images. 

Even though the driver's fingers do not actually touch anything, they still feel a tactile haptic response, thanks to an ultrasonic array that pulses them with inaudible sound waves. 

Saab was also resurrected at CES Asia in the form of NEVS, or National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the company founded in 2012 after Chinese investor Kai Johan Jiang bought Saab. 

NEVS plans to introduce two EVs in China in the second half of 2018, said Niklas Sondell, the company¡¯s business development director.

Both vehicles will be based on the old Saab 9-3 platform and built in China -- one a sedan, the other a crossover. 

NEVS eventually wants to sell in other markets, but China comes first, he says. "It's the new way of doing it." Sondell said, "We¡¯ll establish ourselves in China and then branch out."

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