SAIC is already one of China’s biggest automotive manufacturers, which means that by 2050, when China will have 500 million automobiles on its road, it will become one of the largest automakers in the world. Beyond its potential for growth, it's the company's futuristic thinking that most impresses us. It recently showed the groundbreaking YeZ Concept car, and its next concept car, which we bring you a sneak peak of here, is equally as thought provoking.
If you haven’t heard of SAIC (which stands for Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), make a note of the name, because the chances are that you’ll hear it a lot more as time goes by. SAIC is the third biggest of China’s automobile companies, and given that China will have more automobiles than any other country in the short to medium term future, SAIC is destined to become one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers.
Chinese automobiles aren’t seen to measure up to Western manufacturers just yet, but it’s really only a matter of time. The chances are that the mobile phone, computer or digital camera you love was made in China. More than 90% of the stock on Walmart shelves is made there. Though bigger than mobile phones and computers, cars are no more sophisticated, so it's logically just a matter of time before Chinese skilled labor costs and production efficiency manifest themselves into a car showroom near you.
SAIC is already in eight joint ventures with General Motors, with the two companies sharing a massive pavilion at the current Shanghai World Expo 2010 being held in its hometown.
They do things on a large scale in China, and you don’t always get to hear about technological achievement because it is very hard to obtain a J1 (resident) or J2 (visiting) working journalist visa to enter China. So most of the media representatives who get into China are sent by foreign news organizations and are hence focused on general reporting, and hence often lack the technological knowhow to recognize the significance of some of China’s initiatives.
A case in point is the operation of what is probably the largest fleet of clean emission vehicles in the world right now. The massive pavilion SAIC shares with GM has seen much interest generated in SAIC’s YeZ (Leaf) Concept and General Motor’s EN-V concepts which are displayed there, but because attention has been focused by the media on these futuristic technological happenings, many of SAIC's other achievements at the show have gone largely unrecognized.
One of the objectives of the Shanghai World Expo 2010 organizers was to achieve "zero emissions" within the Expo Site and “near zero emissions in the near vicinity" in keeping with the imperatives of the show theme of demonstrating what the city of 2030 might be like. As the expo’s major automotive partner, SAIC was called upon to provide many of the vehicles needed to meet this “green traffic” objective.
SAIC hence went about converting the opportunity to showcase its products at the expo site into an even greater opportunity – to conduct an intensive field trial of a range of green technologies under the super-intensive real world conditions of the Expo.
Accordingly, over the course of the six month period of the show, SAIC will provide more than 1000 pure electric vehicles, super capacitor vehicles, fuel cell vehicles and hybrid vehicles so they can fulfill the show’s zero emission commitments and at the same time be tested in real-world, stop-start, non-stop conditions.
Operations of the intensity demanded by the Expo will put the new energy vehicles under intense scrutiny but also provide immensely valuable feedback on their performance, safety, reliability and comfort.
SAIC’s capabilities in the clean energy mobility area are largely unrecognized outside of China, but perhaps the application and demonstration of nearly a thousand new energy vehicles at Expo 2010 offers an inkling of what it might be capable of in the near future.
SAIC’s SheLL Concept CarNow here’s the interesting bit. We’ve already seen SAIC’s YeZ concept and seen from just how far out of left field it comes – the first car to be emissions-negative – a new concept entirely. Now there’s another SAIC concept that challenges conventional thinking even more than the YeZ.
Not a lot of information has been released about SAIC’s SheLL Concept Car because it’s just so hard to wrap your head around, and given the Chinese translation issues, we’re not surprised.
The SheLL is set 20 years into the future in an environment where urban space is at a far higher premium than now, be it on public roads, for parking, or simply as a cost-efficient investment in a car-sized footprint in a city. People are flocking to cities from urban areas around the globe. As the global population increases, and we head for 60% of the population being in cities, real estate will eventually cost a LOT more due to the laws of supply and demand.
One of the overheads we will factor into owning an automobile in the next 50 years will be the cost of the piece of land you require to park the car.
So SAIC's SheLL concept is exploring what else can be done with an automobile to make it more useful when you're not driving it, and what other roles it can fulfil when it is parked.
Americans spend about 90 minutes per day on average driving their cars, while Europeans spend roughly half that time. If you consider that there are 24 hours a day, that's a very inefficient use of resources, so it makes sense to perhaps spend a bit more money to convert the car into something you get a lot more use from.
Throw in the concept of an automobile being a very "personal" mobile territory, and you can see why SAIC should begin exploring the possibilities.
We've only been given a small taster of the ideas behind the SheLL at this time, but it is not only an automobile, it also transforms into a bedroom, office and gymnasium. As we said, this is a concept from far-left-field
The SheLL concept also explores new materials and how they can be used to reconfigure spaces. Inspired by the shell grains of the fan-shaped shellfish, ancient Chinese people invented portable folding fans and folding paper lanterns. Today, inspired by the folding fans and paper lanterns, SAIC has applied elastic membrane technology to the vehicle’s bodywork, so that the Shell is elastically adjustable and capable of adapting itself to various applications and meeting different user requirements. The SheLL will also connect seamlessly to buildings and public facilities by way of what is expected to become a standard interface for vehicles - a docking station so it can supplement the home or office with another working or living space. In other words, in 2030 you can park your car directly against the wall of buildings, thus saving parking space on the ground and improving the traffic situation, whilst at the same time increasing work/home facilities wherever you’re going. One of the two images we have been provided with shows the SheLL being used as an Ambulance - logically, if it easily transforms from one purpose to another, it might easily be adaptable for special purposes too.
That’s all we know at this stage. What is obvious though, is that based on the YeZ and the SheLL, the creative vision within SAIC’s design department is clearly on a par with the most advanced automotive design on the planet. The company is not just thinking about zero emission automobiles, but how the automobile might be used in the future of society.
As we said – SAIC is already destined to become one of the world’s largest auto manufacturers – by 2050, China alone will contain half as as many automobiles as exist in the world right now. As one of the biggest auto manufacturers in China, simple extrapolation will see SAIC near the top of the world’s largest mobility manufacturer listings.
So make a note of the name, and watch this space!