【英语中国】车轮上的“新中国”

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所属分类:双语中国

2011-3-30 00:08

小艾摘要: Every weekend in the quasi- urban wasteland of the Chaobai river outside Beijing, Chinese yuppies congregate to skid their sports utility vehicles around the dry river bed. Members of the Haval car cl ...
Every weekend in the quasi- urban wasteland of the Chaobai river outside Beijing, Chinese yuppies congregate to skid their sports utility vehicles around the dry river bed. Members of the Haval car club are discovering the freedom and sense of power that stems from being behind the wheel.

This is a lesson that comes to every culture that learns to drive. But the owners are also indulging a peculiarly Chinese sense of individuality, using cars to push the personal boundaries of a conformist society.

The liberal use of stickers, decals, furry seat covers, dashboard-mounted perfume canisters and customised slogans makes each Haval – a model produced by Great Wall, a local automaker, and until recently called the Hover – an expression of its owner’s personality. No one at the offroad caper can easily mistake his or her car for anyone else’s.

No country on earth has ever bought so many cars in so little time as China. Thirty years ago, 5,000 passenger vehicles were made on the mainland annually; last year, the figure was 11m. That boom is having profound effects, both inside and outside the country: cars are changing Chinese culture and China is changing the global automotive industry.

Overseas, Chinese tastes are beginning to shape the cars sold worldwide, as manufacturers increasingly tailor their models to meet the demands of what has become the world’s largest car market. Within China, the birth of a vibrant new culture of the automobile is boosting sales of everything from chrome wheels to prosthetic limbs – inexperienced drivers are prone to gruesome crashes.

The hitherto bicycling masses, or at least the richer among them, are buying, financing, servicing, decorating and wrecking cars at a rate not seen since America in the days of the Model T, Japan in the 1960s or Korea in the 1980s. It is very much a car boom with Chinese characteristics – and it is having a profound effect on everything from the economy to the fabric of society.

Chinese are buying cars when their income hits the same threshold that prompted mass automisation in Europe, Japan and South Korea. But China’s car culture is evolving very differently from elsewhere, says Bill Russo, head of Beijing’s Synergistics, an automotive consultancy, and former head of Chrysler in China. “This is a culture that people from afar see as very uniform, but when you experience it at first hand you realise how unique and personal people like to be?.?.?.?because they want to break away from the pack.”

Car clubs capture the paradigm of highly personalised consumption within a crowded culture. Yet the sense of flashback is intense. Haval car club members drink Coke, barbecue meat over portable grills and eat off the tailgates of their 4x4s in an unconscious parody of America, the mother of all car cultures, in its mid-20th century automotive golden age.

At the same time, though, they brew Chinese tea and heat up packet noodles on their bit of what passes for the Beijing countryside, only a few hundred metres from the nearest crane and building site. And they make a point of exchanging business cards: for China’s car boom is encouraging not just physical mobility but a new social mobility too.

The car club’s head, who goes by the handle Wawa (or “baby”) and comes from the nation’s north-east, is using her car to overcome her status as an outsider to Beijing. A feisty 29-year-old with a one-year-old driving licence, she guns her vehicle up and down a steep slope above the river bank – and masterminds a relief effort when one of the club’s novice drivers inevitably gets mired in sand.

“Before I bought a car, I stayed at home surfing the internet to make friends,” she says. “Owning a car gets me out of the internet world.”

The enthusiasts she meets help to broaden not just her social circle but also the all-important web of relationships that underpin business success in China. Wawa says she meets people from different professions – and different “social levels” – that she could never meet without a car.

Apart from making friends and influencing people, club members also get together to spend money on everything to do with cars – from buying the ubiquitous Hello Kitty dashboard ornaments to organising long-distance road trips as far afield as Tibet.

Their spending power has begun to fuel a secondary boom in all things car-related. From servicing to accessories, finance, insurance and rentals, crash repair and a second-hand market, a whole new ecosystem is growing up around China’s car boom. This offers attractive investment options to early movers, industry analysts say. “Right now there are 80m cars on the road in China,” says Mr Russo. “By 2020 there will be three to four times that number, so the impact on all the downstream businesses?.?.?.?is only beginning.”

Gaps in these industries are huge: hotels, restaurants and other services for long-distance drivers are still rudimentary. Though the Chaobai river park is a well-known tourist destination, it lacks public toilets: the car club has to corral four cars in a square to create a makeshift privy. Plans for an overnight outing have to be shelved, it transpires, because the family hostel the group usually uses has no heating.

Car dealers in China will be among the first to benefit, says Ivo Naumann of AlixPartners, a US-based consultancy, in Shanghai. While selling new cars is a low-margin business, he adds, dealers’ profitability will shoot up as those on the road age, boosting demand for higher-margin service and repair work. “In two to three years, China’s car dealers will experience a boom that has never occurred before,” he says.

China’s automotive aftermarket is developing more quickly than, and in different ways from, its precursor in the US, says Mark McLarty, chairman of Yanjun Auto, which runs northern China’s largest BMW franchise. “They’re younger – they don’t have the brand loyalty, they don’t have the dealership loyalty,” he says of the country’s car buyers.

Everything from finance to insurance to accident repair is different too. A decade into China’s car boom, about four out of five people who buy cars are doing so for the first time. “Seventy-five per cent of our customers are 35 and younger,” says Kirk Cordill, head of BMW Automotive Finance in China. “We’re really having to explain a loan to customers, and explain why it makes sense.” To serve a customer base with no credit histories, the business sometimes does “home checks” to see whether people live where they say they do – something that would be done in the US, for example, only if a car was on the point of being repossessed.

Mr McLarty installed a glass wall at the dealership to allow customers to watch their vehicle being serviced because, he says, “the Chinese do not trust mechanics”. He rent a race track at one Beijing outlet to allow customers to sample the cars’ performance at speeds normally unattainable on the city’s congested roads. In a country where most drivers are new – and accident rates are high – his business also runs its own 24-hour paint and body shop.

每个周末,中国的雅皮士们都会聚集到北京郊外充满城市气息的潮白河荒滩上,驾驶着自己的运动型多功能汽车(SUV)在干涸的河床中打滑。哈弗(Haval)汽车俱乐部成员们正在探索源于驾驶的自由和力量感。

这是每个初学驾驶的文化都会经历的一课。但哈弗车主们也在以中国所独有的方式纵情展示个性——在一个循规蹈矩的社会里,利用汽车拓展个人边界。

哈弗车主们自由地使用贴纸、贴花、毛绒座套、安装在仪表盘上的香水罐,以及量身定做的标语,来彰显自己的个性。哈弗是中国本土汽车制造商长城汽车(Great Wall)生产的一款车型,不久前刚把英文名称从“Hover”改为“Havel”。在这场越野秀中,车主们要想搞混自己和别人的汽车可不是件容易的事。

世界上没有哪个国家在那么短的时间内买了中国那么多的汽车。30年前,中国内地每年生产乘用车5000辆;去年,这一数字是1100万辆。这种快速发展已经在国内外产生了深远的影响:汽车正在改变中国的文化,中国也正在改变全球汽车产业。

在海外,随着中国成为全球最大的汽车市场,越来越多的汽车制造商根据中国市场的需求量身定制车型,中国人的品味已开始影响到在世界各地销售的车型。在国内,朝气蓬勃的汽车新文化的诞生,提升了所有商品的销售:从镀铬轮圈到义肢——缺乏经验的驾车者往往容易发生可怕的车祸。

迄今一直以自行车代步的中国大众,或者至少是其中较为富裕的人,目前正在购买、贷款购买、保养、装饰和撞毁汽车的速度,是美国自T型车发明以来、日本在上世纪60年代或韩国在上世纪80年代都未曾见过的。这是一场具有中国特色的汽车繁荣,对从经济到社会结构等一切事物都产生了深远影响。

当收入水平达到欧洲、日本及韩国全民普及汽车的门槛时,中国人开始购买汽车。但克莱斯勒(Chrysler)原中国区主管、北京汽车咨询公司Synergistics总裁比尔?拉索(Bill Russo)表示,中国汽车文化的演变与其它国家截然不同:“从远处看,这种文化没什么两样,但当你亲身体验时,就会认识到人们是多么地渴望独特与个性……因为他们希望与众不同。”

汽车俱乐部是拥堵文化中高度个性化消费的典范。然而却让人产生了一种强烈的时空交错感。哈弗汽车俱乐部的成员们喝可口可乐,用轻便烤肉架烧烤,在自己四驱车的后门野餐,不自觉地模仿了美国这个所有汽车文化的鼻祖在20世纪中页汽车黄金时代的做法。

但与此同时,在这个多少被他们视之为北京乡下的地方,在距离最近的起重机和建筑工地仅有数百米远的河滩上,他们也会沏中国茶,泡方便面。他们还重视交换名片:因为中国的汽车繁荣不仅鼓励了物理上的移动,而且鼓励了一种新的社会流动。

今年29岁、绰号“娃娃”的哈弗汽车俱乐部主管来自中国东北。活跃干练的她正利用汽车克服自己作为北京外地人的不利地位。娃娃一年前刚考下驾照。她驾车沿着河岸上的陡坡冲上冲下——当俱乐部一位新司机不可避免地陷进了沙地的时候,她成功地设计了解救计划。

娃娃表示:“买车前,我呆在家里上网交友。汽车让我走出了网络世界。”

娃娃结交的汽车发烧友不仅帮助她扩大了社交圈子,而且帮助她拓展了关系网——在中国做生意要想取得成功,关系网是关键。娃娃表示,她结交的朋友来自不同行业和不同“社会阶层”,如果没有汽车,她永远不会认识这些人。

除了结交朋友和有影响力的人士以外,俱乐部成员们还一起进行所有与汽车有关的消费——从购买随处可见的凯蒂猫(Hello Kitty)仪表盘饰物,到组织远至西藏的长途自驾游。

他们的消费力已开始促成所有汽车相关物品的二次繁荣。从保养到配件、汽车信贷、保险和租赁、维修和二手市场,一个全新的生态系统正随着中国的汽车繁荣而发展壮大。行业分析师表示,这为抢占先机的企业提供了吸引人的投资选择。拉索表示:“目前中国在道路上行驶的汽车有8000万辆。到2020年,这个数字将增长两到三倍,因此对所有下游业务的影响……才刚刚开始。”

这些行业存在着巨大的缺口:为长途驾车者提供的餐饮、住宿以及其它服务仍处于起步阶段。尽管潮白河公园是一个著名的旅游景点,但却没有公共厕所:汽车俱乐部不得不用4辆车围成一个临时厕所。在外过夜的郊游计划不得不搁置,据说是因为他们通常住宿的家庭旅馆没有取暖设施。

美国汽车咨询公司AlixPartners驻上海的伊沃?瑙曼(Ivo Naumann)表示,中国汽车经销商将是首批受益者之一。瑙曼补充称,尽管销售新车的利润率较低,但随着上路汽车日渐老化,对利润率较高的服务及维修工作的需求将得到提升,经销商的盈利能力也会激增。他表示:“两、三年后,中国汽车经销商将经历前所未有的繁荣。”

中国北方最大的宝马(BMW)特许经销商——燕骏集团(Yanjun Auto)的董事长马凯霆(Mark McLarty)表示,中国汽车售后市场的发展比当年的美国更快,而且有许多方面不同之处。马凯霆谈到中国的购车人时表示:“他们更年轻,没有品牌忠诚度,更没有经销商忠诚度。”

从汽车金融到保险再到事故维修,一切都不一样。中国的汽车繁荣已有十年,但大约五分之四的人还是首次购车。中国宝马汽车金融公司(BMW Automotive Finance)总裁科迪(Kirk Cordill)表示:“我们75%的客户都在35岁或35岁以下。我们确实不得不向客户解释什么是贷款,以及为什么要贷款。”为了向没有任何信用历史的客户群提供服务,公司有时会进行“家访”以确定客户是否住在他们所说的地方——在美国,只有要收回汽车时才会这样做。

马凯霆在经销店装了一面玻璃墙,让客户能看到正在接受保养的汽车。他表示,这是因为“中国人不信任机械师”。马凯霆在北京一家分店租了一条跑道,让客户能够以在北京拥堵的道路上通常无法获得的速度体验汽车的性能。在一个大多数驾驶员都是新手、事故率很高的国家里,他的生意还包括一家24小时营业的喷漆和车身车间。

燕骏集团宝马Mini品牌销售总监张心怡表示,客户在配件方面的品味会随着时间而改变。例如,去年流行的是定制车头灯和座套;今年则是贴纸,包括庆祝中国兔年的兔子形状的贴纸。张心怡断言:“我知道有人花在装饰上的钱抵得上最初购车的费用。”

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