It is Sunday afternoon, and Xu Difei is daydreaming.
The 35-year-old manager of a state-owned enterprise is looking at an SUV in the Nanjing Auto Showroom, a sparkling dealership near Shanghai's famous Bund financial district.
Xu's wife has wandered off to look at smaller cars, but he lingers next to the Safe, a $14,000 model made by Great Wall Automobiles. Sure, a smaller car would get better mileage, but Xu wants it for weekend drives outside the crowded city.
"I like SUVs because they give me a feeling of being casual and free," Xu says. "All young men like these kinds of cars."
Indeed. Spurred by rising interest among entrepreneurs and middle-class households, automakers are rushing to expand their lineups of SUVs in China. SUV sales are expected to total 110,000 units this year, up 18 percent from 2002. While that's a relatively small niche, sales are expected to grow 20 percent a year for the next five years.
Among the Big 3, only Ford Motor Co. has failed to compete in this segment. General Motors - which has limited itself to the small, upscale SUV niche - hints that it may expand its product lineup. And DaimlerChrysler AG is revitalizing its Beijing Jeep venture with new products from partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
Together, DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi hope to claim a big chunk of China's growing SUV segment.