Now, western car companies just have to figure out what Chinese people want to drive.
From Wired Magazine:
This is a great article. It nails Chinese people's expectations of cars. Chrome is huge. Harmony in colors is key. And the back seat passenger controls the radio and the sunroof (many car owners have hired drivers driving them around).
Western automakers have started designing cars specifically for the huge Chinese market, and we don’t mean just meeting tighter pollution and fuel-efficiency standards.
The new cars and concepts have exterior contours that comport to Chinese ideas of balance, with interior colors and fabrics designed to signify status and evoke respect. The controls for entertainment and climate systems might even be moving to the back seat, because truly wealthy people don’t drive, they have drivers.
Thirty years ago, the People’s Republic of China was an automotive backwater. Today it’s the biggest market in the world, having just eclipsed the United States. So, its consumers are demanding the best from automotive designers.
The explosive growth of the Chinese market, where consumers bought 17 million new cars last year compared to about 10 million in the United States, has been a bright light in an otherwise dark time for the auto industry. As the traditional markets of North America, Europe and Japan stagnate or decline, automakers have seen their sales in China double and double again.
“This is clearly the market of the future,” says Freidhelm Engler, General Motors director of design in China. “It’s not going to slow down.”
Although I wasn't alive in the United States in the 50s and 60s, I'm pretty sure that the car boom during that time is in some way analogous to the car boom going on in China right now. In the 50s, President Eisenhower dreamed of an interstate highway system and built it. Last year, China's leaders stimulated its economy with billions and billions of dollars spent on infrastructure spending. Highways are a big part of that "infrastructure." China, in its own way, is reliving this:
Like Americans a generation or two ago, young Chinese people view car ownership as a status symbol and are proud to drive. Cars have been deprived from most Chinese people for so long that many jump when they have the chance to make the purchase (not to mention that car ownership is an absolute prerequisite for many young urban men hoping to find a suitable bride).
I don't necessarily think that China's decision (it's not just happening, the powers that be have decided to go this route) to make China a car-owning society is a good thing. I believe that I know the drawbacks of car ownership almost as much as anybody.
My hometown of Kansas City has "more miles of limited access highway lanes per capita than any other large metro area in the United States." I don't have international rankings, but considering how developed the United States' interstate highway system is, I feel safe in saying that Kansas City has the most highway lanes per capita of any city on Earth. Interstates 29, 35, and 70 coming together here, indeed, make Kansas City the highway mecca of the world.
What's the consequence? Many Kansas Citians would say our city is "convenient." Here in KC, we don't have many traffic jams. Yes, we can zip around to different parts of the metropolitan area with great ease.
But after having lived abroad and outside of Kansas City for many years, I often wonder why we're so crazy for our cars. Why do we put this "convenience" of zipping around on unsafe highways above living in a more compact land area? And at what cost - both monetarily and culturally - are these highways?
To me, Kansas City's addiction to cars is bordering on disgusting. I'm more and more convinced that being dependent upon cars is a burden rather than a convenience or expression of freedom.