Car manufacturers are falling over themselves to please the Chinese, and it’s no wonder. The population of China is 1.35 billion – with 240 million Chinese born in the 1980s – and annual economic growth has hovered around 10 percent for years.
The middle classes in China have grown to 100 million and there are over 1 million millionaires. The are also over 130 billionaires. In 2011, 18,900,000 cars were sold in China, compared to 12,778,171 in the U.S. and 1,941,253 in the UK.
Which means they are buying more cars. The Chinese home-grown (and often state-owned) manufacturers can supply a certain amount of the Chinese growth in car ownership, but not all. And with more money and freedom of choice in what is still a communist country, Western manufacturers can satisfy an increasing demand for individuality – and beauty – from Chinese consumers.
So we see the familiar (to us in the West) car manufacturers pushing their product like hell at the Shanghai Motor Show. We are seeing joint ventures with Chinese companies, and we are seeing China-specific models.
Jaguar Land Rover saw sales in China increase by 60 percent over the course of 2011, and by more than 80 percent in 2012. JLR will be opening a manufacturing plant in China in conjunction with Chery, a state owned Chinese manufacturer.
The Ford Focus, recently announced as the world’s bestselling car, was helped to that title by a 50 percent increase in sales in China. Ford is one of many manufacturers introducing models specific to the Chinese market. In Ford’s case that model is the new Ford Escort – an iconic name in the UK and, as it turns out, in China. The country loves the old model so much, Ford deigned to revive the name for a new saloon that sits between the Focus and Fiesta.
Jeep President Mike Manley recently called the Cherokee “an obvious choice” for production in China. Jeep’s sister company Fiat already has a partnership with Guanghzhou Automobile Industry Group – a Chinese, state-owned, company. Jeep is negotiating to get the Cherokee built at Guanghzou’s plant in Changsa. The Chinese SUV market is one with the highest growth and Jeep can expect to double its current sales of 46,000.
Nissan’s attempt to capture the Chinese market is the Friend-me, which if it were a film, would be the ultimate high-concept movie. According to Nissan, Chinese in their 20s (the target market) have no siblings, so they like to be with their friends but also to have their own individual space. Therefore, the automaker designed a car with room for four but also gives each occupant their own space (pictured above).
Maybe by accident they’ve also designed the best looking Nissan ever made – strange for a market normally so conservative.
Among the many manufacturers on display in Shanghai was MG, whose MG CS concept is hugely important for the resurgent British brand, now in Chinese hands. The MG6 hasn’t really been the success many hoped for, despite being a good car. And with the premium mini-SUV sector chasing after the market share created by the Range Rover Evoque, MG have high hopes for it’s first brand new car in two years.