Looking for a Chinese car in Shanghai

If I were an executive at a Chinese domestic automaker, I would be very worried. Why? It is difficult to find a Chinese-brand car on the streets of Shanghai, the country's largest city with more than 23 million inhabitants.

I experienced this first hand visiting the city for the auto show. During a long bus ride from the Shanghai World Expo to the Pudong district, I didn't see one Chinese-brand passenger vehicle.

What did I see on Shanghai roads? I got a history lesson on Volkswagen's long presence in China experienced by seeing the various generations of its Santana sedan, which is the taxi of choice.

I also saw hundreds of silver Buick minivans, as well as Audi and BMW sedans and SUVs of every shape and size, all painted black and with tinted rear windows. There were also some cars I didn't expect to see, such as the Smart ForTwo and an old Saab 9-3 convertible. Missing were any vehicles from Brilliance, BYD, Chery, Geely and Great Wall.

Shanghai is not the only city devoid of domestic vehicles, which is why Chinese automakers sold just 1.38 million units in the first quarter, leaving two-thirds of the 3.93-million-unit market to foreign automakers, according to Morgan Stanley data.

The good news is that there are plenty of Chinese domestic cars on the stands at the Shanghai auto show.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com

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