Chinese car desire ‘echoes 1950’s USA’

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The high value placed on car ownership by young Chinese, alongside likely projections for population and economic growth, create a real local and global policy challenge to ensure environmental sustainability, new values research commissioned by the FIA Foundation finds.

Research by Cultural Dynamics into the values and attitudes of young people in China towards cars highlights how increasing prosperity and aspiration are combining in a generation of new consumers who see cars as ‘dream machines’, powerful symbols of status and identity. Researchers found that most young people held such attitudes, making their values profile very different to young people in the West, and most similar to America in the 1950s.

Between 2005 and 2010 the number of cars in China trebled, and there are now over 100 million cars on the road. By 2025, China will replace the US as having the largest number of cars, and estimates for 2030 suggest there will be over 400 million cars in China. This trend will potentially have massive implications for health, congestion and climate. Air pollution and road traffic injury both lead to hundreds of thousands of fatalities in China. As the numbers of vehicles increase it is likely that these will rise, along with carbon emissions.

The FIA Foundation commissioned Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing Ltd to undertake the research, which was carried out in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. The research suggests that young people in China acknowledge the importance of environmental issues, but are unlikely to respond to pro-environmental messaging. Status, affordability, convenience, control, and fun are factors that have more power to affect people’s transport behaviour.

Sheila Watson, FIA Foundation Director of Environment & Research, said: ‘Global policy askers need to reconcile the legitimate benefits which increased mobility can bring, with the undoubted environmental, air quality and climate challenges which are also created by increased vehicle ownership. Improved fuel economy, greater access to public and non-motorised modes, as well as cleaner fuels, and new energy sources all have a role to play.'

Download China’s Quest for Car Ownership, FIA Foundation Research Paper >