Been to China lately? I have. Although the Shanghai Auto Show was a bit dull, the real story was on the streets of smaller cities throughout China that are dominated by factories, constant building of high-rises, and a crazy mix of everything automotive from junk to gems. With over one billion people, you would expect a large array of car choices. That would be correct for the rising middle class, plenty of VWs and the like to go around. For the bosses and factory owners however, the choices are considerably narrower due to effective advertising and a dose of peer pressure. Will you see a gold wrapped Lamborghini like you would in Dubai? No, not yet at least. You will see however, a convoy of Benzes, Bimmers, and a Bentley. You will see a Rolls Royce parked next to a Yaris. You will see a Ferrari next to a fake Ferrari. How could I tell them apart you may ask? The fake one had an enormous wing on the back that was also riveted on – backwards no less. The question is, which was more disturbing, that the real one was next to a horrible fake, or that the onlookers looked at them as equals.
Road conditions of highways outside of major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing are smooth and occasionally traffic-free which would bode well for an owner that wanted to stretch the legs of a piece of European iron. The local roads are a mixture of potholes, scooter riders that do not seem to understand the laws of physics, trucks of all shapes and sizes that are all equally overloaded, and as a whole all are involved in a complete disregard for the rules of the road.
On the upside, if you’re a manufacturer all you need to do is advertise that your piece of iron is a car for owners and not workers – you’ll sell more than you can make. If you sell cars like Buick or Toyota, there are lots of takers as well, for middle managers and people dreaming of life in an enclosed vehicle. There are so many interesting things to write about, I could dedicate the rest of my life to the subject and never cover the same ground twice. For me it’s the little things that make the difference (the Royale with cheese, if you will). For example, luxury cars (I will not single anyone out) are not the same as you know and love in other parts of the world. Suspensions are cheaper and stiffer, interiors that are sold as leather are more leatherette in look and feel, fit and finish is miles better than Chinese domestic product but horrifying compared to the normal production European or USA product. Droopy headliners – check, mismatched interiors – check, window tint with logos in the line of sight and also upside down – check.
Here are some cars that I found on the street that I thought you might find cool and educational. What I find interesting is a Chinese McDonalds parking lot that was filled with enough high priced-iron to make it resemble a Beverly Hills car dealership. On the other side of the spectrum is a small sample of some domestic product that includes a three-wheeled micro pickup truck and a minivan that lives up to its name.