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posted on May 7th, 2018

The most important concepts at Beijing

China is the world’s largest car market, and every automaker wants a piece of the action. Long-established European and American manufacturers are designing global platforms and new models with the Chinese market in mind. Simultaneously, upstart Chinese brands are advancing in technology and quality, and it may not be long before cars made in China are available on Turo. Dozens of cool cars and concepts were on display at the 2018 Beijing Motor Show — here are the top four.

Jeep Grand Commander

Image: Jeep

Jeep is as American as car companies get, but for the first time they’re building an SUV in China, for China. The Grand Commander is pure Jeep, with a boxy upright shape, trademark seven-slot grille, and — of course — four-wheel drive. It’s less off-road monster and more on-road people mover, featuring seating for seven, a leather-lined cabin, and the ability to cut power to the rear wheels to improve fuel economy.

It’s almost identical in size to the Grand Cherokee, but has a much smaller engine: a 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder, not a big V8 like American market Jeeps often have. That’s because cars in China are taxed based on engine displacement, and anything above 2.0 liters falls into a more expensive bracket. Still, with rugged good looks and family-friendly capacity, it seems the Grand Commander would succeed in the USA. Will there soon be a Chinese-made Jeep on American shores?

Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury Concept

Image: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Maybach builds one thing only: cars that are as luxurious as possible. It’s fitting, then, that they’d name their latest concept simply Ultimate Luxury. It’s a massive machine based on the GLS-Class SUV, but designers gave it a body with an enclosed trunk more like a sedan. Adding to its unusual looks is a split rear window, but tons of chrome and humongous wheels make it supremely baller.

The concept’s interior is breathtaking. It seats only four despite its size, with the intention of coddling occupants in every way. Pure white leather, striped wood accented by wispy LEDs, and gleaming rose gold brightwork abounds. The driver sits behind wide digital dashboard displays, while rear passengers can enjoy a hot cup from the integrated porcelain tea set. A 738-horsepower electric drivetrain aids quietude when it’s not delivering whiplash-inducing acceleration.

Geely Concept Icon

Image: Auto Express

Never heard of Chinese car company Geely? They’re more familiar than you may realize: they own a majority stake in Lotus, and acquired Volvo outright in 2010. At this year’s Beijing Motor Show they introduced the Icon, a concept based on Volvo’s XC40 crossover.

Inspired by old school 8-bit graphics, the Icon’s blocky design looks equal parts weird and cool. Minimalist exterior details save for LED lighting accents give it a smartphone-on-wheels vibe. The lowkey look continues inside, where translucent fabric bizarrely covers the gauge cluster, rendering it invisible when not in use.

Like most concept cars, the Icon is meant to build hype and measure consumer reactions. It’s too early to know if it will reach production, but given its real-world underpinnings, it might be almost ready to hit the road.

BMW iX3

Image: BMW

If you thought there were a lot of electric vehicles in America, look at China. Generous government subsidies and robust charging infrastructure have made EVs extremely popular there, with sales increasing at an electrifying pace. Now BMW has revealed a new but familiar EV that will have global impact.

The iX3 is built on the X3 platform, but — as the name implies — is an addition to their i electric car sub-brand. It looks nearly identical to the gas-powered X3, save for a rework of the classic kidney grille. With 250 miles of range and 150-kw charging, it’ll provide plenty of juice for day-to-day driving duties.

The iX3 might become the car that BMW purists love to hate: it’s an SUV, it’s powered by electricity, and significantly, will be built in China for world export. While that’s a departure from Bimmer’s storied sports cars, it’s indicative of the country’s automotive progress. That the German marque would choose Shenyang as the build site for the iX3 shows Chinese-made cars can be good enough for international sales.

Alex has been a car fanatic for as long as he can remember. Whether it's engine timing, exotic car design, or race strategy, there is no automotive topic beyond Alex's interest.