#70 The Phoenix Rises from the Ashes … in China

Of course, what is commonly referred to as the Chinese phoenix, the fenghuang, only distantly resembles the phoenix of the West. So, erudite reader, please forgive the amateurish use of the phoenix as a metaphor for what’s going on in China’s automotive sector. Mercedes, BMW, or Audi are all reporting very positive developments from the Chinese market. This confirms what insiders to the automotive industry and experts in cross-cultural marketing have long pointed out silently. It’s not necessarily (only) available income that drives purchasing decisions, but national culture plays a big role, too. Income levels in China would suggest that smaller models are sought after, but the opposite is true. Status, power and prestige are very important elements of Chinese culture. Several years ago now, Volkswagen had planned to rapidly increase market share in China by offering a small car – assuming that with rising levels of affluence, everyone would buy a small, entry-level car. Guess what, they didn’t. The polo was simply too small for the Chinese market. Today, larger Volkswagen models such as the Passat or the Tiguan are doing a lot better. Owning a luxury car is the ultimate sign of social status, and so demand in the premium automotive segment is on a constant rise. In July, Audi sold about 50 percent more cars in China than last year, BMW about 80 % more and Mercedes-Benz even tripled its sales. And all of this despite the rather high luxury taxes in China which raise the prices of the flagship models – the S-Class, the 7-series, or the A8 – to about double from what they are in Europe. These developments certainly come at the right time for luxury carmakers whose sales have been less than favorable in their core markets in the West in past years. The Chinese fenghuang is a symbol of virtue and grace – very similar to what the Mercedes brand stands for. Maybe my use of the metaphor isn’t that off after all.

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