China auto show highlights industry’s electric ambition

The biggest global auto show of the year showcases China’s ambitions to become a leader in electric cars and the industry’s multibillion-dollar scramble to roll out models that appeal to price-conscious but demanding Chinese drivers.

Auto China 2018, which opens this week, follows Beijing’s decision to allow full foreign ownership of Chinese automakers in a move to make the industry more flexible as it promotes electrics.

The ruling Communist Party has transformed China into the biggest market for electrics with billions of dollars in subsidies to producers and buyers. Now, Beijing is winding down that support and shifting the financial burden to automakers with sales quotas that push them to develop models Chinese drivers want to buy.

That is reflected in the auto show lineup: Global and Chinese brands including General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG and Nissan Motor Co. plan to display dozens of electrics and hybrids, from luxurious SUVs to compacts priced as low as 152,000 yuan ($24,000).

GM plans to display five all-electric vehicles including a concept Buick SUV it says can travel 600 kilometers (375 miles) on one charge, plus a hybrid Cadillac XT5 28E.

The Detroit automaker, which vies with VW for the status of China’s biggest brand, is launching 10 electrics or hybrids in China from in 2016 to 2020.

VW is due to launch 15 electrics and hybrids in the next two to three years as part of a 10 billion euro ($12 billion) development plan announced in November.