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More Chinese Hitting the Road in Their Own Cars

  • Stephanie Ho

A lone Chinese cyclist faces traffic dominated by automobiles in Beijing, China (file photo)

A lone Chinese cyclist faces traffic dominated by automobiles in Beijing, China (file photo)

China has a growing love affair with the car. This is clear at the Beijing Asian Games Village Automobile Exchange, where more and more people come to look and, increasingly, to buy.

Alice Wu, an editor at a Chinese Internet publication, takes the subway to work, but she is certain she can cut her commute time if she drives herself.

Wu says it takes her three hours to get to work now. If she had a car, the same trip would only take her two hours.

Big business

The Asian Games Village Automobile Exchange is the biggest car dealership in Beijing. General manager Guo Yong says the business sells more than 2,000 cars each week.

Guo says it is much easier for Chinese consumers to buy a car now. In the past, it would take them several years to earn enough money to buy a new car. Now, he says, many people only need to save for one year.

Also, the emergence of less expensive domestic brands like Chery and BYD means more Chinese can afford cars.

Traffic congestion

For decades, most Chinese city residents got about by bicycle or public buses and trains. Now, in many areas, the number of new cars is growing faster than the road system, leaving city streets jammed with traffic.

Guo Liang has wanted to buy a car for a decade, and he will be the first in his family to own one. He is not deterred by Beijing's traffic jams.

Guo says if the traffic is too bad, he will use the car for leisure or holidays with his family.

Another customer, Zhang Menxin, works in Beijing, but is from Xi'an, more than 900 kilometers away.

Zhang says it is very difficult to get a train ticket to return home for Chinese New Year. She adds that she will want to take her infant son, and that the train is not convenient. If she had her own car, she could go anytime she wanted to.

Status symbol

World Bank transportation specialist Shomik Mendhiratta says a car is something people in any society would aspire to own.

"Getting a car makes people feel like they have arrived [to the] middle class," Mendhiratta said. "It's got a huge status associated with it. It's a fantastic thing to have, if you have never had a car. A car gives you a mobility that's unbelievable."

And, as 26-year-old car shopper Alice Wu points out, for young women in her generation, a car also can help make a potential boyfriend a little more attractive. She says she does not care if a future beau has a car – but if he does, it will add points.