China’s new driving force

By Conall Curran Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/18 18:48:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

The popularity of the personal automobiles in China has grown rapidly in recent years. As cars have long been a central part of American culture, it has been fascinating to observe the differences in how Chinese people feel about the concept of the personal automobile. In the brief time that I've been here in Beijing, I have noticed there are a few major differences in the kinds of styles, brands, and, in particular, driving habits that distinguish the American driver and the Chinese driver.

In the United States, pickup trucks and large SUVs are by far the most popular kinds of cars, whereas here in China I have seen, more than anything else, four-door sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers. The prevalence of sanlunche - the cheap, three-wheeled cars often found on the streets of China - was also surprising to me, as the quirky, little vehicles are virtually never seen in America. Part of me wishes I could put one in my pocket and take it back home with me.

Unsurprisingly, however, is that most popular brands here in China are domestic manufacturers and German automakers that focus on features that appeal to the sensibilities of Chinese consumers. Where things like towing capacity and four-wheel drive are important in the American auto market and brands like Ford and Chevy still dominating, comfort and fuel efficiency are a must in China. Compacts with rather roomy interiors and electric vehicles offered by companies like Volkswagen and Geely are extremely popular.

Though, to a foreigner, the most astounding thing about cars in China might be the "way" people drive. It's rather amazing that the majority of Chinese drivers are experienced in driving manual vehicles, while American drivers are known for pedal-to-the-metal driving in cars with automatic transmissions. Additionally, like many big cities, Beijing obviously struggles with traffic congestion and it would appear as if drivers here are quite reckless, even at slow speeds. It's amazing to me that I have somehow never seen a single car accident, even at the height of rush-hour chaos, leading me to believe that Beijing traffic is governed by an unseen force of cosmic order.

Although there are many differences, ultimately the purpose is the same. Whether you're in China or the United States, the automobile is a utility to get from point A to point B. However, to some, a simple car is more than just a machine. In America, driving is often seen as a way of life and it seems as though that this same culture, one centered around personal transportation, will continue to grow in China at an unprecedented pace.


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