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Car bosses talk China, Tesla battle and luxury SUVs

Bosses of some of the world's biggest automakers have shrugged off concerns over future economic growth in China, telling CNBC that they are adapting to the "new normal" in the world's second-largest economy.

Speaking in interviews at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the CEO's of Jaguar Land Rover, Daimler, SEAT and Porsche, talked about China, the growing SUV market, and the future of electric cars.


China’s ‘new normal’

Stock market turmoil in the world's second-largest economy and fears of slowing growth have caused concern that major carmakers could take a hit. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers cut its growth forecast to 3 percent from 7 percent for car sales this year.

But auto bosses dismissed concern suggesting that they were resilient enough to handle the situation.

"The new normal is the new normal, we have to adapt and we will do so. But we have a very good line of good products…and can manage this situation very well," Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, told CNBC on Tuesday, adding the company will not scale back investment in China.


The boss of Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler admitted it was playing "catch-up" in China but is optimistic for the future. Mercedes' second-quarter unit sales saw 34 percent year-over-year growth in China.

"Our products pipeline is full, people are extremely excited about our new product but there is more to come…so we are really optimistic for the remainder of the year and next year as well," Dieter Zetsche, Daimler CEO told CNBC.

Automakers with a broad product portfolio seem to be faring best, with the Porsche boss adding that while sales of its Panamera model remain weak in China due to the slowing premium segment, its Cayenne model is selling better, adding that the company has reduced its growth outlook in the company slightly.

"We are strong, we can grow…but we have reduced a little bit the growth for the future," Matthias Müller, CEO of Porsche, told CNBC.

SUV market heats up

The SUV market got some new entrants at the Frankfurt Motor Show with the likes of Bentley, Jaguar and SEAT unveiling new models.

It's one of the fastest-growing auto segments that a number of carmakers are betting on with an increasing number of luxury players jumping into the space. Bentley unveiled its first SUV called Bentayga and Jaguar showed off its inaugural SUV called the F-Pace.

"It's a very luxury, very sporty, very dynamic, with very good drivability…and the first Jaguar ever in this kind of segment but taking the DNA of Jaguar," Speth told CNBC.

SEAT also released a new model called the Seat Leon Cross Sport Show Car – a cross between SUV and coupe.

"The SEAT brand is defined actually as a design-orientated young brand with great quality and great functionality…we are coming not as the first ones but actually as the first with a SEAT DNA," the company's CEO Jürgen Stackmann, told CNBC in an interview.


Tesla’s got competition

Electric cars are also a hot topic at Frankfurt with continued government pressure around the world to cut down carbon emissions.

Despite sales of electric cars are still small, a number of manufacturers have shown of real and concept designs in a bid to challenge the likes of Tesla with luxury offerings. Porsche took the wraps off its Mission E fully electric four-seat sports car that it says can charge in around 15 minutes to 80 battery life.

Müller said it will decide by the end of the year whether to put the concept car into production and said that this car would be "better than everybody in the market".

"We are proud of Tesla as a competitor, we accept that but Porsche always wants to do it better," Müller told CNBC.