Asia Briefing: The car’s the star as newly-rich Chinese flaunt wealth

Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys et al are common sights on the streets of first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in the past few years

The British hand-built classic sports car Morgan has just opened its first shop in the Workers' Stadium in downtown Beijing

The British hand-built classic sports car Morgan has just opened its first shop in the Workers' Stadium in downtown Beijing

Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 01:00

One of the must-have accessories for the newly-rich Chinese is a luxury set of wheels. China overtook the US as the world’s biggest car market several years ago, but now it is set to pass out the Americans as the leading luxury car market in the next seven years.

Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys et al are common sights on the streets of first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in the past few years – there is a shocking pink Lamborghini on my street – but increasingly they are also showing in the second-tier cities.

According to McKinsey, China is on track to control 40 per cent of the world’s luxury car market by 2020.

With this prospect in mind, the British hand-built, classic sports car Morgan just opened its first shop in the Workers’ Stadium in downtown Beijing.

Among the cars on display in the showroom are the first Morgan Plus 8 to ever be sold in China, a Roadster and the only 75th Anniversary edition of the Morgan 4/4 model in China.

And for those privileged only children, Morgan also has a SuperSport Junior, a children’s pedal car, proceeds from which will fund the “Morgan China 250 Wings” initiative.

“The Morgan cars in the Beijing showroom are the first models imported to China under commercial licence, which means that they can be bought by Chinese customers,” said Jim James, managing director of Morgan Cars Beijing.

“Our goal has been to build a showroom which inspires confidence and excitement in the Morgan brand.”

The showroom is within easy walking distance of those of Bentley and Lotus, two other luxury car brands hoping to take advantage of China’s booming wealth category.

Carmakers sold 19.3 million vehicles in China last year, nearly five million more than the US.

General Motors’ Cadillac and Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover are all boosting production and capacity in China.

For some luxury carmakers, increases in sales are set to come even sooner.

BMW, the world’s largest premium automaker, said China will probably surpass the US as its top national market this year as the brand enters more communities and wins buyers with the 5-Series sedan.

Deliveries in China, which overtook the company’s US sales in the first half, are likely to rise about 10 per cent for the full year, Karsten Engel, head of BMW’s business in China, said in an interview with Bloomberg last week.

“Strong growth in future will come from the smaller cities, and the strong growth will also come especially from the western region,” said Mr Engel. “There are 100 cities with more than a million inhabitants in China with no premium car dealers at all, so this shows the huge potential we’re having in this country.”

General Motors, the largest foreign automaker in China, said that sales growth in China accelerated last month, boosted by an increase in deliveries of its Cadillac marque.

GM sales in June rose 11 per cent from a year earlier to 236,207 units, after a 9.4 per cent increase the preceding month, GM said.

GM expects to sell three million vehicles in China this year, and is investing nearly €9 billion here on new plants and products. It plans to build four new assembly plants to boost its annual capacity to five million vehicles by 2015.

Sales of Cadillacs surged 69 per cent to 4,244 units last month on demand for the SRX crossover and XTS sedan, the Detroit-based manufacturer said. They increased 35 per cent for the first six months.

At the same time, sales are slowing as the economy stutters. Sales of premium autos in China are likely to increase about four per cent this year, or about half the pace that the automaker had expected at the start of the year, GM’s China chief Bob Socia said in Shanghai last month.