23 February 2019
Visitors throng a Nissan pavilion at the Beijing Auto Expo on April 21. Purchase curbs in many cities are dampening the enthusiasm of car buyers in China. Photo: Reuters
Visitors throng a Nissan pavilion at the Beijing Auto Expo on April 21. Purchase curbs in many cities are dampening the enthusiasm of car buyers in China. Photo: Reuters

Don’t get swayed by the crowds at Beijing auto expo

With over 2,000 corporate exhibitors, 230,000 square meters of exhibition space, 1,134 cars on display and 118 world premières, the Beijing Auto Expo 2014 is certainly the largest of its kind in China and an event that no one in the auto industry can afford to miss.

The fanfare and sleek models, not surprisingly, are stoking the aspirations of tens of thousands of people eager to embark on a life on four wheels. But, hold on, many visitors to the expo are having to think twice before making any car-purchase decision as they are spooked by the barriers put up by many cities on local vehicle populations.  

Local governments, indeed, don’t have much of a choice. While they are aware of the people’s desire for greater mobility and convenience, the bigger factor that comes into play is the need to curb the terrible traffic and the filthy smog on the roads.

In fact, a journey to the venue of the expo, which opened on April 20 with a media event, itself offers a subtle reminder of the issue on hand. Beijing media have reported that the roads near the new China International Exhibition Center have been in continuous gridlock over the past week, and that the fastest way to reach the venue may be on foot.

The expo, also known as Auto China 2014, is still chock-a-block with visitors, but what lends some irony is that some people were there not for cars but to gawk at a superstar line-up that included Sophie Marceau, David Beckham, South Korean actor Lee Min-ho and Taiwanese actor and race car driver Jimmy Lin Chih-ying {林志穎}. The celebrities had been invited by various carmakers as brand ambassadors to promote products, but it turned out that they made news for other reasons.

The biggest event on the first day of the expo, which will run until April 29, was a scheduled appearance by South Korean heartthrob Kim Soo-hyun, who shot to fame across Asia with the hugely popular TV drama series ‘My Love from the Star’. Kim was there to endorse Hyundai’s new models, yet he couldn’t make it on time as he was caught in the capital city’s notorious traffic.

Later, when Kim finally showed up — for just three minutes — the entire hall was in chaos as a multitude of fans scrambled to get close to him, forcing the organizer to cut short the event. It was just like a superstar meet-and-greet and no one appeared to care much for the new sports utility vehicle that was on display.

Southern Weekend reports that a young groupie, who missed the chance to meet her idol, grumbled to her friends: “Oh, I didn’t see him, what a shame!” Asked about cars, she said: “What cars? I don’t want to see any cars!!”

That said, automakers are still upbeat about the prospects despite the purchase restrictions, tougher emission rules and the fact that to some extent the expo is becoming a superstar live show.

Toyota executive vice president Yasumori Ihara said at the expo that the firm aims to sell 1.1 million cars in China this year. He estimated that China will contribute two thirds of the world’s new cars sales in the next five years. General Motors was equally optimistic as it announced an additional US$12 billion investment in China for the next three years.

German auto giant Volkswagen, which sold most cars among foreign firms, will also be splurging 18.2 billion euro (US$25.2 billion) by 2018 and double the number of its dealerships to 3,600, chairman Martin Winterkorn revealed at the expo.

China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) data shows that 4.87 million passenger cars (including SUVs and MPVs) were sold in the first quarter this year, up more than 10 percent over the same period in 2013. Toyota recorded a sales jump of 23.4 percent while the figure for Ford was 45 percent.

Dong Yang {董楊}, CAAM secretary general, told Xinhua that car purchase curbs and license plate lotteries are just short-sighted remedies for traffic congestion and air pollution, and that the association will do whatever it can to lobby against a wider application of the measures. Currently Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Guiyang and Shijiazhuang have caps on car ownership.

Even though more cities could impose similar measures sooner or later, Dong added that more second-time car buyers, who own license plates and are exempt from auctions and lotteries, will emerge to oil the wheels of the industry.

Electric and hybrid models, which have been given preferential treatment after the introduction of car curbs, can become more important income source. Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche are zealously showcasing their electric and hybrid marques at the expo, with the products to be rolled out into the market later this year.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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