China's growth will be 'like nothing we've seen'

When it comes to the topic of China's dominance as the world's leading growth market, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche starts running out of superlatives.

"Like nothing we've seen," Zetsche told a group of reporters today at the Shanghai auto show.

Zetsche talks about the "scale and speed" of the market and shakes his head. The economic transition that took Western economies 100 years and affected 200 million people, "will take 20 years and affect 1.2 billion people," Zetsche said. "When you multiply both of those factors together, you come to something unprecedented."

China's car market could reach annual sales of 20 million to 30 million vehicles over the next five to 10 years, Zetsche said.

Three years ago, at an event around the Beijing auto show, the same could have been said of China's run.

Daimler invited me to tour their assembly plant which had been completed in record time. China was going full throttle and Daimler executives couldn't see the end. Growth wasn't a strong enough word.

One financial and global recession later, the talk of unbridled momentum has snuck back into the room.

This time, the superlatives are there, but so is a hint of caution.

Foreign executives, including those in Germany, admit that the market is more mature. There are obvious risks in the pursuit of more growth.

Zetsche admitted today that "overheating and bubbles" are still possible, as well as social unrest.

"But the way the Chinese government managed the transition of the last 15 years … has been impressive," he said. "It at least provides us with strong confidence."

Where will it go?

"There is the chance, within the next five-to-10 years of very strong growth" in China, Zetsche said. "All of us are tremendously benefitting from this market."

Stay tuned. The ride gets more interesting.

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