Business, Finance & Economics

Auto China underway in Beijing, points to emergence of dominant China car market

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Models stand next to the Buick Envision SUV concept car at Auto China 2012 in Beijing, April 24, 2012. Global car makers such as GM, Daimler, BMW and Peugeot are counting on China to maintain growth in their premium offerings. (Photo by Jason Lee/Reuters.

There's a major autoshow going on right now — perhaps the biggest of all.

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It's not in Detroit, nor in Frankfurt. It's in Beijing.

Paul Eisenstein, author of The Detroit Bureau, is there trying to determine what kinds of cars the Chinese people like. The answer has important implications for the American auto industry. That's because what the Chinese want from their cars is increasingly dictating what American's get in their cars.

Eisenstein said the event in Beijing is "crazy," especially when compared to New York or Detroit.

"(In the United States), they've got the whole thing running really, really smoothly. Here, it opened to the press with eight different news conferences being held simultaneously. Every major carmaker was on at the same time, which made it a little bit difficult," he said.

While the auto market in the United States is stable, at best, with young Americans driving less than ever, it's booming in China. Last year, China sold 18 million cars, more than the United States has ever sold in a single year. 

That dynamic will play a big part in the direction American carmakers take in the future. Eisenstein said the expectation is that China will be selling at least 30 million cars per year by 2020.

"Automakers go where the money is. If they see that the Chinese are the ones buying their cars in the biggest numbers, they're going to be designing their cars around what the Chinese need," he said. "You're already seeing that. The Buicks we're getting in the U.S. have become more attractive because the Chinese told Buick that they wanted more stylish vehicles with more room and more luxury."

But, at the same time, what the Chinese want isn't really all that different from what Americans want, he said. They want roomy cars, with a lot of technology built in.

"It's probably going to mean better cars for what Americans typically like, but it may be a little bit odd for the Europeans," he said.

They want, typically, he said, really small cars. And that's not what the Chinese want.

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