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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Luxury cars inspire China's dreamers
By Charlotte Windle
In Shanghai

By the end of this week, a whopping 300,000 people are expected to have visited the Shanghai auto show.

Model posing in luxury car
Object of desire: some cars cost more than most earn in a lifetime

Only a small percentage of them will have arrived by car.

In China, cars are still a luxury few can afford - though that does not stop them from dreaming.

Among the cars on display, there are some that cost more than an average Chinese person will earn in a lifetime.

There are a lot of rich people in China, with a lot of money around, but they don't have a full understanding of luxury living style
Bill Cheng, Bentley

But the number of millionaires is growing, so luxury car makers like Italy's Ferrari expect the number of cars it sells in China to jump sharply.

"We believe China has a very big potential," says Marco Anchisi, general manager of Ferrari Maserati Cars China, predicting a 50% rise in sales this year.

"In fact, in the next two to three years we expect to have China as our fifth or sixth largest market in the world."

Chauffeur driven segment

One drawback for sports car manufacturers is that luxury in China has traditionally meant the owner rides in the back seat.

Ferrari on display in Shanghai
The luxury cars inspire dreams few can hope to achieve

This makes it an ideal market for the likes of the British luxury brand, Rolls-Royce, which is showing off its stretched Phantom, a car specifically targeted at the Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

"We've added 250mm, 10 inches all into the rear of the vehicle and customers can then add a lot of features to their own desire whether that be a partition wall, a theatre package, or a drinks cabinet," says Ian Robertson of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

The BMW subsidiary has been in the market since 2003, and China now accounts for 5% of its global sales.

"The scope is really there to be had," says Mr Robertson.

Lavish lifestyles

Chinese millionaires not only want the car but all the trappings of a luxury lifestyle.

Rolls-Royce on display in Shanghai
China's wealthy like to show off in chauffeur driven cars

This is something that the most successful luxury brand in the China market, Bentley, have used to their advantage.

China now records the highest sales volume in the whole Asia Pacific region and its growth rate is the highest in the world.

"One thing we do is promote the Bentley living style," says Bentley's Bill Cheng.

"The reason for that is that there are a lot of rich people in China, with a lot of money around, but they don't have a full understanding of luxury living style.

"So we introduce a lifestyle and tell them the best cigars, best watches, best champagnes."

The lifestyles on display will never materialise beyond the dream for the many thousands of people who visit the auto show this week.

But among China's many millionaires, there is a growing willingness to show off their wealth.

And that cultural shift is what makes this one of the most exciting markets in the world for luxury car producers.

What next for Shanghai Automotive?
12 Apr 05 |  Business

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