Canton Fair in full flow – more exhibition than emporium

This year's visitor flow at the largest trade fair in China is back to about 90 percent of pre-pandemic, but more visitors has not translated into orders.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By ZHANG Xilong


The Guangzhou Metro Line 8 was as crowded on the weekend as it is during peak hours on weekdays. At Xin'gang East Station, half of the passengers got off, and at the next station, Pazhou, almost everyone else got off.

The huge passenger flow was for the Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China. This year's visitor flow is about 90 percent of pre-pandemic, but better footfall has not led an increase in orders. On just Saturday and Sunday, more than 660,000 people visited the fair.

In the exhibition area, unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned minibusses continue to draw crowds for photo ops.

Guangzhou EHang Intelligent Technology Group is one of these exhibitors. Large numbers of people want to sit in the cabin of the company’s driverless vehicle. Or take selfies, but no one talked about ordering one.

EHang is pushing three of its drones at the fair. One for sightseeing in tourist attractions, another for fighting fires, and a delivery drone. So far, no unmanned aerial vehicle in the world has obtained a flightworthiness certificate so the EHang drones have not been commercialized. Most of the people who come to see them are just curious.

From a policy perspective, there is currently a blank space in the unmanned civil aviation regulations. EHang has sold its vehicles to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Mexico, but local commercialization remains a problem.

Compared with unmanned flying machines, those running on the roads are having a better time.

A blue minibus with no steering wheel or controls caught the attention of many. The L4-level minibus from WeRide is the world's first commercial vehicle of its type, used for short loop routes of 3 to 5 kilometers.

They are used as shuttlebuses from subway stations to businesses, industrial parks and tourist attractions. Oversized windows offer good sightseeing.

Commercialization is still in the early stage, and the opportunities provided by the Canton Fair for unmanned driving companies may be more promotional than transactional. Like EHang, WeRide is looking overseas, cooperating with companies in Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

"In addition to the Middle East and Singapore, we will also expand into the European and Japanese-Korean markets this year," said ZHANG Yuxue of WeRide. "Although there are a lot of visitors, are lucky to encounter an interested customer. Even then, we still need to go to the company for negotiations and specifications. This is not an ordinary commodity.

"Just now, someone asked about the price. Hardware, software plus installation costs around 2 million yuan. He said he would buy one for 200,000 yuan - which is barely enough for a sensor."