In October last year I wrote about luxury cars taking over the streets of China. Since that post the trend has continued and not only are the cars taking over the streets, but also airports, malls, fashion shows and hearts and minds of Chinese consumers as well.
Chinese are still going crazy for car consumption and China now leads the global sales figures for most luxury automobile manufacturers. As many of Jing Daily’s auto posts attest to, new dealerships for Bently, Lotus and alike pop up regularly in China and I witnessed near riots last April at the Beijing International Auto show when rowdy crowds became impatient to get into the event.
Luxury automobile advertising is most prominent at airports, and shopping malls where high-end consumers are likely to be lurking and car brands are doing their utmost to associate with high society and fashion events. Car brands also topped the list in digital marketing proficiency in China according to L2’s 2011 study.
In 2011 Mercedes Benz was finally granted title sponsorship of China Fashion Week and then went on to sponsor the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show held in May. Alexander Wang’s flagship store opening spectacle played with the traffic theme with glowing traffic wands being dispatched as invitations to the Audi-sponsored party held the car park beneath the store.
A recent trend with luxury flagship stores is to brand the car park with logos and offer private elevator access into the store, just perfect for the Chinese upper class customer who should never need to interact with the riff raff.
Owning a car in China goes a long way to displaying your status and helps categorize you into the social hierarchy. I found this out first hand recently when I was choosing a car to buy. I was originally considering the Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jeep or Smart Car 2012 Year of the Dragon special editions until my puppy swore to only ride in a Year of the Dog edition anything. As that puts the Rolls off until 2018, in the meantime I thought a mid sized SUV and would be ideal solution for city, country and canine.
Seeing my colleague arrive at the office in a new white Honda SUV, I asked her where she bought it. “You cant drive a white SUV! If you want to be taken seriously you need a black sedan like an Audi A6. What would a client think of you driving a white SUV? Ridiculous!” she replied emphatically. “I don’t plan to drive it to work”, I said. It didn’t matter! “Impossible!” was all I could get out of her, “You must get a black sedan.”
Although alien to me, this kind of cultural association between your social position and vehicle you drive is deeply engrained into Chinese culture. In Beijing there is even such thing as ‘high status’ and ‘VIP’ license plates where the letters and colours on the plates indicate what type of person is inside. Government and military vehicles with these special prefixes rank highest and are usually affixed to black Audis or Mercedes. They are above the law and do as they please on the roads. See here and here for more.
Traffic in Chinese cities can be horrendous and brazen drivers compete with bicycles, electric scooters, pedicabs and all manner of other vehicles for the right of way. Given the choice, it appears that most urban Chinese would prefer to spend twice as long sitting in gridlock in the comfort of their own car rather than take public transport home. Again it’s a status thing. No one wants to ride the subway and buses with peasants if they can avoid it.
In efforts to improve congestion several cities have limited the number of new license plates issued each month. Further measures restrict which days certain license plates are allowed on the road. For China’s wealthy drivers these regulations are easy to circumvent by either paying extra to ‘acquire’ a license plate or simply having two or more cars with different coded plates to drive each day.
Chinese traffic is so horrible and hectic, yet sights ranging from golden Lamborghinis to Ferrari Bubble Jets leave me wildly entertained if not dismayed daily. Definitely better told visually, here’s a collection of car and traffic related images from China.