China Driving Automaker’s Designs

As China is driving the demand for supersizing luxury cars, more and more automakers are using Chinese tastes to drive their designs. In 2009, China emerged as the world’s largest car market due to the rising number of nouveau riche. The New York Times reports:

Automakers — American, Asian and European — all rushed to meet real or perceived consumer demand with models in market segments that have been largely overlooked. Seen among the offerings were Dragon 88 Limited Edition versions of several Aston Martin models, a Maybach-pretender Viano van by Mercedes-Benz and a lavishly appointed S.U.V. from Lamborghini called the Urus.

As has been the case for more than a decade, rosy projections were being made about how much profit there is yet to be made in China’s growing market. Automakers, especially luxury brands, seem unable to add new models, or the dealerships to sell them, fast enough.

Audi’s head of sales, Peter Schwarzenbauer, lamented to Reuters that of 304 Chinese cities with more than a million inhabitants, his brand had dealerships in only 187. But recent numbers are sobering. Sales rose in China by a slim 2.5 percent for 2011, after a dozen years of growing by double digits annually, according to official figures. Sales shrank by 1.3 percent in the first quarter compared with the year-earlier quarter.

Though luxury models are expected to continue outpacing the broader market, midlevel carmakers like Fiat, Honda and Volkswagen see vast opportunities. Fiat introduced a version of the new Dodge Dart, which itself is based on an Alfa Romeo Giulietta; in China it will be called the Fiat Viaggio. Honda rolled out the Concept-S hybrid, which it said would go on sale in China next year. VW showed an electric Beetle convertible, the e-Bugster concept.

Previously, automakers have adapted US or European designs to suit Chinese tastes, but now many are planning to design for the Chinese consumer and then adapt them for the global market. AFP adds:

“We want to have more China elements in our design for global cars,” said Shen Li, spokeswoman for Nissan China.

“The designers find inspiration in traditional paper cutting, or in Tang (dynasty) paintings representing opulent women. Every model in the future has to have a good potential in China.”

“In the future as China grows, we will increasingly need to take into account the weight of the Chinese market,” said Frederic Banzet, director at Citroen.

“We will work from a design with Chinese characteristics and adapt it to other markets,” he said.

See also Luxury Cars of Golden Treasure Street and Highway 99 and China Welcomes Gas Guzzlers via CDT.


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