Chinese and their cars: A love affair

Chinese and their cars...In my last post I mentioned that I mainly saw Chinese tourists at the BMW World and BMW Museum when I visited last month. Actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Chinese people are absolutely car crazy, especially the young generation!

China is currently at a stage similar to European (and American) countries in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s developing and growing rapidly.

It seems that human beings have a certain “wish list” containing of important “must-haves”. Once a society gets richer, you move down the list. So what does the list look like?

1. Food (necessary pre-condition for life on this planet)

2. Shelter (read: a roof on top of your head. Facilitates your life tremendously, particularly in cold countries such as Northern Europe)

3. Tap water / toilets / air con / heaters (on that measure, Europe still has way to go. The lack of air conditioners is striking)

4. Cars

And without a question, in China we have reached the “car stage”.

Think about the following: In cities like Shanghai or Beijing, people (especially young people) rather commute by car to work instead of taking the metro, despite the car ride being twice the time compared to the metro.

Granted, taking the metro in Shanghai and Beijing isn’t a nice experience as it resembles the feeling of being a tuna in a tin. But there’s not doubt that it’s cheaper and quicker compared to a car.

In Western societies on the other hand, the trend is in the opposite direction. Young people decide to postpone taking their driving license tests. And young professionals prefer living in the city centre and make a decision to take public transport or a bicycle over a car.

No wonder then, that companies such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes are eying the Chinese market. For Volkswagen, maker of VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Bugatti and Bentley, China is already the second biggest market in the world.

But will China remain the “heaven for carmakers”? It remains to be seen how fast attitudes will change in China.

We’re talking about a country which is leapfrogging western countries in terms of technology (e.g. mobile phone networks, broadband). What took European countries 150 years to go through is being done here in one generation.

So will Chinese buyers realise the utter impracticability of a car in a city of 10 million and switch to the metro system in one generation as well (or maybe just half a generation)?

With cities like Shanghai and Beijing, already over 15 million, still growing and property prices going through the roof I wouldn’t be surprised if the change away from cars is about to happen soon, let’s say in the next 10 to 15 years.

Or will they rediscover the bicycle?


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