postcard from china: China is ready for more cars - almost

It is about 4 o'clock on a hot afternoon in June. I am one of eight journalists traveling on a bus to Pudong Airport on the outskirts of Shanghai. We are on a gleaming, smooth six-lane highway. But I count only seven cars and trucks.

A German reporter from Beijing begins talking about the new highway. 'The mayor of Shanghai said it is like a father buying a big suit for a little boy,' the reporter explains. 'He knows he will grow into it.'

I have been in China for a day, touring General Motors Shanghai and getting an update on GM operations in the country. The automaker, China's largest foreign investor, is anxious to get a share of the market once trade barriers fall as a result of the expected World Trade Organization agreement.

'This place is ready,' I tell my German colleague.

Twenty-four hours later I am on another bus, this time in the northern city of Shenyang. I am on my way to another airport. Here the air is acrid, hazy. The city is dirty and rusty. And the bus is not moving.

I see the cause of the delay: Bridge construction. Drivers in the other two lanes apparently have decided it might be faster for them if they came onto our side. No wonder traffic stands still.

Suddenly I am not so certain China needs any more cars.

You can reach Chaz Osburn at autonews@crain.com

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