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Beijing shows that battle with Britain is no contest

Date: 05 May 2008

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

When it comes to global automotive clout, the Beijing motor show proved that it would be foolish to ignore China's progress and future influence, writes Guy Bird

Longbridge might be a long way off producing MGs again, if ever, but that doesn't mean Chinese carmakers have been sitting on their hands - far from it.

Landwind is still promising to be the first domestic Chinese brand to sell its wares in Britain late this year, while more - from Geely and Chery to Roewe and Great Wall - are set to follow in the next three years.

Every major global manufacturer was in attendance at last week's 2008 Beijing motor show, which will be unlike this year's British International Motor Show in London where various big brands will be notable by their absence.

There were at least half a dozen world exclusives at Beijing from Mercedes' first ever Chinese global unveil - the production GLK - to Audi's Q5 compact 4x4. China became Audi's second biggest market in 2007 after Germany, pipping the UK in the process. In all, 892 vehicles were launched, including 55 concept cars. This is not to belittle the British market or its importance and sophistication, but compared to the burgeoning Chinese market there's no contest in sales terms.

The Chinese car market is the second biggest in the world behind the US with 8.5 million sales in 2007 - 5.5 million cars plus three million commercial vehicles - and there's still massive potential. Only a tiny proportion of the 1.3 billion Chinese population can currently afford a car, but according to marketing company JD Power and Associates, the market is due to grow by a whopping one million vehicles per annum until 2015 - an increase equal to the UK's annual fleet sales every year.

On that basis it could pass the struggling US market (which managed 16.5 million cars and trucks in 2007) to become the world's biggest market inside a decade.

Leasing link

The BVRLA's Nigel Stead was in China too. As he exclusively revealed to BusinessCar his mission was three-fold: firstly to meet with the Chinese leasing association and secondly - with his Fleet Synergy hat on, the international joint venture that Lloyds TSB Autolease is part of - to scope out a possible Chinese partner for global fleet deals. Finally, he went to Beijing to see with his own eyes what all the fuss was about, and in his own words, "to make a judgement about the potential for Chinese cars to enter the UK".

He was impressed, not only with the show but how the market is developing. I couldn't agree more.

The crash tests and early quality issues might have made the headlines in the past few years, but all the signs are that Chinese carmakers' European ambitions have not diminished and they're getting ever closer to realising their goals.