China’s market for luxury autos is unlike any in Europe or North America, observed Ian Robertson, chairman of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in a recent interview. It’s not just a question of taste and style; there are major regulatory challenges to contend with.
But these trials have not staved off Robertson, or the brigade of other luxury auto executives who have tentatively thrown down their gauntlets ahead of Auto China 2010, which opened at the weekend. Sales might lag behind those in the West, but it’s clear that the upper echelons of car manufacturing are stepping up their game. This will not be music to the ears of Audi, whose 20-year reign over the Chinese luxury market looks certain to be assaulted from multiple angles, namely by Daimler and BMW brands.
In Beijing, BMW will unveil an extended 5 Series, while Mercedes is set to debut its new longer E Class, both specifically created for the Chinese market. The extended wheelbases aim to tempt China’s wealthy, chauffeur-reliant population. Meanwhile Bentley has enacted the most blatant charm offensive. The carmaker’s Continental GT Design Series China comprises two new Continentals with custom options tailored to the tastes of Chinese consumers and unavailable elsewhere.
But wooing the Chinese hasn’t come without a cost. According to a Bloomberg report, BMW’s 7-Series, with a 1,355,000 yuan ($198,500) base price, is nearly three times the price of the US version. Audi’s A4 in China is 39% more expensive than the US starting price, while the Mercedes C-Class begins at 348,000 yuan ($51,000), making it 51 % more expensive than in the US.