Arjen Bongard is editor of Automotive News Europe. E-mail him at [email protected]
For starters, the show itself is big. Held at the city's new expo center, the one-level floor covered 120,000 square meters. All the world's major car companies had products on display. Many of them also made sure their top executives were plainly evident.
But what makes the event -- and this market -- unique is the models from domestic manufacturers such as First Auto Works Group, Dongfeng Motor and smaller carmakers such as Geely Holding Group and Chery Automobile.
A week in Shanghai filled with meetings with a wide range of automaker and supplier executives confirms impressions developed abroad: China's automotive future looks solid.
Certainly, there may be a slowdown in growth. There may be concerns about overcapacity. And car prices are under pressure from increased competition. Most automotive markets have identical problems, or much worse.
But there is general agreement that in a market of 1.2 billion people, automakers can -- and will -- sell more than 2.5 million passenger cars a year. Many more if you consider that the economy is expanding at a double-digit clip and that 70 percent of all new-car buyers are purchasing an automobile for the first time.
Suixin Zhang, a board member of Volkswagen China, puts it bluntly: "China is the only big growth market in the world. If you want to participate in this growth, you must come here."
The brand-new BMW dealership on the edge of Shanghai is a case in point. It has sold 60 cars since it opened last month. Many of the customers paid cash in full.
"People prefer more luxury," says a dealer here. BMW and other premium carmakers are also expanding sales rapidly as newly wealthy Chinese replace their aging Volkswagen Santanas, once the only car a private citizen could purchase.
A walk in the city
Take a walk through Shanghai and it's clear that, while probably not representative of the rest of China, this city has definitely embraced consumption. Almost everyone carries a mobile phone. Department stores and specialty retailers offer a huge array of globally recognizable brands. Starbucks and McDonald's seem to be on every street corner.
DaimlerChrysler displayed a Maybach at the auto show and it was, reportedly, immediately sold to a wealthy Chinese. Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have big showrooms right downtown.
This is the kind of environment in which you can sell cars. And everyone knows it. China is in the automotive big league.