PETROLHEADS DESCENDED on China’s largest exhibition complex on April 21st for the opening of Auto Shanghai, the first big global car show since the start of the pandemic. Dozens of typical exhibitors, from Cadillac to Kia, flaunted their latest models to China’s burgeoning consumer class. Yet the most popular booths, as judged by foot traffic, belonged to a clutch of Chinese companies with little carmaking experience: Huawei, a telecoms giant; DJI, the world’s biggest drone-maker; and Evergrande, a property developer.
The newcomers aim to capitalise on China’s new thirst for electric vehicles (EVs). Last year 1.3m of them were sold in the country, accounting for two-fifths of the global total, estimates Canalys, a research firm. As part of its anti-pollution drive, China’s government wants every other new car sold to be an EV by 2035.
Tech firms like Huawei and DJI are betting that future EVs will compete not so much on the “eye appeal” of their hardware as on the sophistication of their software. Fully autonomous vehicles, able to understand their surroundings, are the ultimate (if distant) goal. Conveniently, both Huawei and DJI …