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Why Frankfurt's biggest story just happened in China

Autocar logo Autocar 11/09/2017 Jim Holder
Why Frankfurt's biggest story just happened in China © Autocar Why Frankfurt's biggest story just happened in China

There will be everything from hypercars to eco-minded electric vehicles having covers whipped off them, but the biggest news at the Frankfurt motor show is likely to be triggered by something thousands of miles away in China.

How so? The weekend's news that officialdom is about to declare a target end date for combustion-engined cars later this week has potential to send shockwaves through the industry.

Similar announcements by the UK, France and India in recent months have been irrelevances compared with what the world's largest car market is planning.

The suspicion is that China will push hard for electrification - as a country reluctant to spend money with suppliers outside its own frontiers, a shortage of natural oil reserves has never sat well with China's economic planning.

Likewise, its mass industrialisation programmes have prompted as many environmental concerns as they have induced economic progress. China has downplayed these concerns over the years, but increased globalisation has brought pressure that it must address, especially in big cities.

And then there is the alluring prospect of leap-frogging the world's established car makers. China has long been focused on the electric car as an opportunity, investing heavily to that end.

If it could deliver a credible electric car for a lower price or with more range than is offered by established manufacturers, who's to say that today's accepted order couldn't be disrupted? You need only look to the mobile phone market to see what's possible.

© Cultura RM Exclusive/Mick Ryan; Getty Images

It is no coincidence that Chery is dipping a toe into European markets next year - Chinese car makers have always been ambitious to break beyond their borders, and this could be their opportunity.

How will the established car manufacturers camping out in Frankfurt react? That depends on what's announced, but the importance of the Chinese market has already been demonstrated by Honda and Toyota unveiling plans to develop electric cars for that market alone.

The insinuation is that if they wanted to sell cars in China, they needed to play to the tune being set by the administration. Car makers will happily dance to the Chinese Government's tune if it keeps the factories and sales they've built there spinning.

Don't think this won't affect you, either, because the sway of the Chinese market is more than powerful enough to dictate how cars are developed. What China wants will likely influence what we drive.

China's struggle, in turn, will be creating a policy that works in a country that is home to millions living in poverty as well as tiers of the mega-rich.

For the former group, existing combustion technology remains the most accessible source of mobility and will likely stay that way for decades to come.

Pushing the big cities to electric would be enough to sway the global car market, but China may be required to go further than those areas. Whatever is announced should be taken very seriously indeed.

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Related: Frankfurt Motor Show 2017 preview (Motoring Research)

Frankfurt Motor Show 2017 Preview: With the list of confirmed concepts and production cars growing all the time, the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show looks set to be as big – despite some big name brands not attending. From hypercars to SUVs, these are just 25 of the key highlights set to garner attention next week. Frankfurt Motor Show 2017 preview

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