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Luxury SUVs star at the Beijing auto show

(MoneyWatch) For the world's biggest auto market where buyers love SUVs, the 2012 Beijing International Motor Show is offering an enticing array of luxury models. The show, opening this week, features SUV concepts from Bentley, Maserati and, especially, Lamborghini.

"The trends at the show are the luxury market and SUVs," Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell told MoneyWatch from Beijing. "Image and prestige are important to buyers here." (For a full gallery of photos, click here.)

Lamborghini says its SUV, to be known as the Urus, will feature a 600-horsepower engine and be made in part of lightweight carbon fiber. Sleek, light and fast seems to fit perfectly with the Lamborghini lineup of show-stopping sports cars. The company says it hopes to sell the new SUV not only in China but also in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

Bentley EXP 9F Getty Images

The Bentley concept SUV is known as the EXP 9F and also has a 600-horsepower engine. But the company is saying that other choices might include a plug-in hybrid version.

Maserati is showing its Kubang SUV, which also appeared at the Detroit auto show in January.

Maserati, like the Chrysler Group, is controlled by Fiat. Thus the Kubang will be built in Detroit in the same plant as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Other sleek concepts

Beyond the SUVs, Beijing show goers will see a wide array of startling concepts. For instance, BMW is showing a concept version of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car with a top that flips up entirely for entry. And Lexus is featuring a low-slung sports car concept called the LF-LC.

Forecasters say car sales in China should grow by 5 to 8 percent this year following a slowdown last year to just 2.5 percent growth -- very small by recent Chinese standards. U.S. auto makers based in Detroit are angling to expand sales in that climate. Here's what they are doing at the Beijing show:

  • General Motors and its affiliates already sell more cars in China than any other global auto maker. Its Buick brand is particularly popular. GM announced this week that it would add 600 Chinese dealerships this year for a total of 3,500. At the show, the company is displaying its newest Cadillac models.
  • Ford is showing three SUV models new to China, including the Explorer. The Chinese version of the Escape is called the Kuga, and a smaller SUV is called the EcoSport. Ford's Chinese sales are only about one-fourth of GM's. But Ford has plans to spend nearly $5 billion to build or expand nine plants in China by 2015.
  • Chrysler is showing a concept version of its 300 sedan with special design features for China. Chrysler China sales are minimal. But Chrysler Group majority owner Fiat has built a Chinese plant that could possibly produce Jeep models there as well in the future.

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