Shanghai Auto Show entrance.png

2019 Shanghai Auto Show

The first press day of Auto Shanghai 2019 was the 16th April — just one day before the first press day for the New York Auto Show that ran in parallel, and only just over a month since Geneva Auto Show closed its doors. None-the-less, Shanghai physically dwarfed these old-world shows (only Frankfurt comes close), and had a far larger number of new designs. 

We were at the show for both press days, along with several of our local associates, to record and scrutinise the new designs, and to engage with the local design community about these designs — and the wider state of car design in China too!

Preview list

Shanghai had a huge number of production (or near production) design debuts from domestic car companies, including a few new brands presenting their first designs — such as Lixiang with their One, and Enovate with their ME7. Some more extreme concept cars added spice to the show; most had been presented elsewhere before, but several domestic brands and Audi (with their Al:ME) and Infiniti (with their QS Inspiration concept) made strong international show-car debuts.

Core insights

The show was dominated by production or near-production design debuts, with a smaller proportion of new concepts car designs reflecting the focus most Chinese brands’ design groups have on realising fast growing (and high turnover) emergent portfolios of next generation cars. The Lixiang One is a good example of the New Age Chinese Electric Design (“NACED”) that we are seeing come through clearly now (see Synopsis below); the Infiniti QS Inspiration concept is a fine design that closely follows debuts in North America and Europe to underscore how important China is for premium brands, and the Jihe A / ‘Geometry A’ from Geely is exemplar of state-of-the-art Chinese production car design from one of the more mature Chinese car giants.

Jihe A / Geometry AJihe means ‘geometry’ in Chinese, hence the mixed naming of this new (sub) brand from Geely that signals a more premium and tech EV focus than regular Geely (and presumably Lynk & Co) cars. The design speaks of the more New Age Chinese Electric Design (“NACED”) that Nio and other new / start-up Chinese brands have embraced, yet is distinct, notably in the interior which has an unusually hight level of richness and resolution.
Geometry A.JPG
Lixiang (or Li) One The One is a perfect exemplar of a 2019 Shanghai Auto Show Chinese car design debut: it is the first design from a new brand; it has an orthodox Volvo-meets-Volkswagen-like SUV exterior — but with a distinct face replete with ‘mono-brow’ single headlight; its design inside and out is handsome and well resolved; and its interior is dominated by a three-screen IP facia. This feature was much scrutinised at the auto show with the local press pouring over its functionality whilst much ignoring the wider car’s design — evidencing perhaps how much in-car UX is proportionately of greater importance in China than in western markets.
Lixiang (or Li) One.JPG
Infiniti QS Inspiration conceptInfiniti is on a roll, with each consecutive design showing the brand to be honing a distinct and strong identity whilst exploring some of the boundaries that its production designs might reach (particularly in the interior). The QS in Shanghai sings from the same hymn sheet as the QX shown in Detroit, but is a fastback not an SUV — as were many design debuts in Shanghai — and perhaps more fully realises some of the finery of surfacing seen in the radical Prototype 10 concept of summer last year. The interior was full of design innovations also; slightly rotating rear seats and a colour blended carpet being two highlights.
Infiniti QS Inspiration concept - b.jpg


For the last twelve years we have been coming to Auto Shanghai, each show (every two years) has evidenced a progression in design quality and a reduction in derivative designs, and 2019 was no different.  Within this wider context we see this year a marked development in the number of fastback / four-door coupe designs being announced, and a related increase also in coupe-SUVs, which shows a shift in the product typology appealing to Chinese customers, particularly at a more premium level. 
Specific to design, this year we saw a progression and reassertion of the New Age Chinese Electric Design (“NACED”) with a confluence of new EV designs from start-up brands featuring these design qualities: a front facia with single slender light and or grille upper graphic flanked by lower vertical apertures; an overall exterior design that is calm and unified with little ‘dynamic dive’, complex surfacing, or embellishment; interiors that place great emphasis on digital UX design.  

Outside of the production and near production designs debuting in Shanghai there were some, but few, examples of Chinese brands exploring future directions with more radical concepts; notable the classically sporty, yet autonomous, Exeed E-IUV (the first fruit we see from newly incumbent design director, Kevin Rice) to the Sharing Van concepts from Dongfeng which are level-4 Autonomous vehicles far removed from current production car design. 

2019 Auto Shanghai was a show that lead on both quality and quantity of car design; we're looking forward to the next one in two year's time already.