The Guardian goes luxury car shopping with Zheng Huizhong, son of a Henan farmer who has become a successful businessman:
“Turning heads with a luxury car is not as easy as it used to be. They are common now. Many people can afford them,” he says. “So I focus on comfort.”
It is an increasingly familiar story as ranks of wealthy Chinese move from bike to Bentley and moped to Merc in a generation. This has not only transformed the streets of Beijing, it is reshaping the business strategies of the world’s biggest carmakers.
China’s emergence as a car industry superconsumer is evident in Jinbao Street, where Zheng takes his wife and son shopping. This leafy promenade between the Forbidden City and the central business district opened in 2002 on the site of demolished hutong (alleyway) neighbourhoods. It aims to be Ginza – Tokyo’s shopping and entertainment district – plus Mayfair and Park Avenue all rolled into one, with five-star hotels, plush restaurants and designer boutiques. But its most striking feature is a clutch of car showrooms. One side of the street is home to Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Jaguar and BMW. On the other, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Mercedes.
Most of these luxury brands have only moved in within the past few years, but the chief outlets on this street – and others like it in Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou – have rapidly become the leading profit centres for the world’s prestige carmakers.