The title may sound weird, and it does NOT refer to the Steig Larson book! Instead, it is referring to the rapidly growing Chinese car market. Automakers are rushing to sell their best to the rapidly growing number of rich Chinese people.
From the Ford Model T of 1908 to the second-generation Honda Fit of 2008, America enjoyed a HUGE boom of cars. America held more than just the impressive title of the most cars sold in a year (17 MILLION light-duty vehicles at it’s peak in 2005!), but we were also unrivaled in being a global tastemaker of cars. Our humble beginnings started with the revolutionary Ford Model T, progressed to the 1959 Cadillacs with the tail fins that acted as big nuisances when going around corners, to the 1996 GMC Yukon/Chevy Tahoe SUVs that force you to watch the gas gauge very carefully, to the gigantic 22-inch wheels found on the 2009 Cadillac Escalade , and finally to the simply amazing Chevrolet Volt. We were truly leaders in technology, looks, utility, and so much else.
Over the years foreign automakers seduced us with their big, fast Porsche Cayenne, strangely fun Honda Ridgeline, and the first Ferrari to ever have stock cupholders; the Ferrari 612 Scagliette. They won our hearts, but none of them could keep our souls for long… Now the U.S. is the shrinking dragon in the room as we make room for the rapidly growing Chinese dragon. In 2009, China was the largest buyer of cars at 18 MILLION! By 2020, China is expected to have sold at least 30 MILLION cars a YEAR!
Because cars are pretty much the only priority for the rapidly emerging Chinese middle class, automakers are forgetting that China’s economy and environment cannot possibly cope with such a rapid influx of cars. Opium was THE drug to take in China in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. Now it’s fancy cars that are fast gas-guzzlers.
Unfortunately for these automakers, there are trillions of Chinese yuan on the table, waiting to be wasted on (yet) another Mercedes S-Class The problem is these automakers don’t know how to design cars that will win the wealthy Chinese hearts. At the moment, the Chinese seem to have a large obsession with Western luxury cars and the chrome look (grilles that are ready to swallow you alive, waxed surfaces, long hoods, huge rims, etc). But the big thought is: how long will it be before the Chinese start asking automakers to start making cars that fit their culture. We just don’t know what Chinese luxury looks like yet. Who knows how long it might take?
But, it’s not all bad: we have learned that the Chinese are very interested in showing their wealth through their cars (Hey, if you recently acquired a lot of money, you might want to do the same thing!). New Chinese buyers have so far been shunning the chintzy-yet-fun Chinese cars in favor of the looming, decorative Audi front ends (Audi’s are used as state cars by the Chinese government!). For the Chinese, bigger is certainly better. Audi, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, and many others unveiled extended-wheelbase cars for wealthy (ish) Chinese to be driven around by chauffeurs. Ian Callum, Global Design Director for Jaguar said “Chinese consumers love to be driven probably more than in any other market. They love opulence, they love all the conveniences, they love to show off.”
If you’re now wondering how this will affect you, don’t worry! It really won’t affect you, unless you buy a new Buick or Volvo. If there are any doubters, go to Google Images and type in “American Buick” and then “Chinese Buick.” You will see that there isn’t that much difference. I’m not trying to put down Buick OR Volvo (both perfectly good brands), I’m just pointing out the facts.