Photo taken on May 19, 2009 shows a BMW police van displayed at the China (Beijing) International Exhibition on Police Equipment and Anti-Terrorism Technology. BMW cars are on the Chinese government's purchase list for 2009-2010.[Asianewsphoto]
BMW has followed Audi and Mercedes to become the "official car" in China. BMW cars are on the government's purchase list for 2009-2010.
But unlike the quiet entry made by Audis and Mercedeses, BMWs have kicked up a minor storm, especially on the Internet.
Chinese-language search engine Baidu.com on Friday got about 150,000 entries on the "BMW procurement", with many of them opposing their use by the government.
"All government officials should drive Chinese brand cars," said a netizen on Sina.com, one of China's largest news portals. The anonymous netizen (as most Chinese netizens are) from Hefei, Anhui province, said: "Given the global financial crisis, China should encourage the use of non-luxurious domestic auto brands."
More than 600 messages followed the entry within 10 hours, and most of them were angry with the government for using BMW cars.
"Why not ride the made-in-China Red Flag car that Chairman Mao used to use? That's a high-end sedan, too," said a netizen from Beijing. "Chinese should be proud of their home brands such as Red Flag."
Why is BMW evoking such a strong reaction? Hui Yumei, auto market researcher with Sinotrust Co, said Chinese consumers see the three German cars differently. Audi has a solemn image and has long been a popular official car brand, while Mercedes has always been considered a classic car.
"But BMW," she said, "is a brand that Chinese often associate with the nouveau riche. It does not fit into the simple and prudent style the government is supposed to follow."
"Personally though, I am not against using BMWs as official cars," she said.
Cheng Yuan, senior auto analyst with Chinese-language newspaper Economic Daily, agreed with Hui. "The decision can help the development of China's auto industry because BMW models made in this country are on the government purchase list."
Audis account for the lion's share of the official cars because they were the first luxury cars to be assembled at home way back in 1988. The government today buys almost 20 percent of all Audi cars sold in the country. In fact, China is the only market where Audi sells more than its German rivals BMW and Mercedes.
According to China National Radio, the government spent 80 billion yuan on buying vehicles last year. "Nobody can ignore such a big cake," Cheng said.
He agreed with the netizens that the "government should encourage the use of homemade vehicles". But he said there are no domestic brands that could compete with foreign ones in the premium car segment.
The segment of cars with 2.0- to 3.0-liter engines and priced below 450,000 yuan isdominated by the joint ventures such as Volkswagen, Daimler Benz and BMW.