SHANGHAI -- Issa Wu, 28, can scarcely find words to describe the thrill of buying his first car.
"It's more than exciting," says Wu of his purchase of a new Volvo earlier this year. "My decision was very quick."
The thrill of new-car ownership may be largely gone in the United States, where young consumers can be enamored of smartphones and iPads. But new-car excitement is very much alive and well here in China, the world's largest car market.
Ashwani Kumar Galhotra, Ford Motor Co. vice president of product development for Asia-Pacific, says designing cars for these eager young buyers is thrilling.
"Sixty to 70 percent of our customers are first-time buyers. That's really exciting for them and for us as well," he says.
This new generation of youthful buyers is driving the Chinese market to new heights. Various forecasts call for sales between 30 million and 32 million units by 2020, more than 2012 sales in the United States and Europe combined.
These young, brand-savvy customers, particularly in wealthy eastern coastal cities such as Shanghai, have plenty of money to spend. They're smitten with international brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Ford, Buick and Audi.
Like many other Chinese customers, Wu paid cash -- about 300,000 Chinese yuan, or about $48,000 -- for his V60, a station wagon not sold in the United States.
Three main factors drove his choice: safety, quality and the V60's Dynaudio sound system.
Wu wants his wife and young child to be safe. China's roads and streets can be dangerous. With many novice drivers on the road, accidents are common.
But safety isn't everything. Wu has about 400 CDs of Western pop music, jazz and bossa nova. "When I drive my car, I start to enjoy my music," he says. "When I'm tired, I just want to jump in the car and try to relax."