Beauty helps steer buyers as market accelerates, reports Gao Changxin in Shanghai.
|A Chinese model poses next to a Porsche at the Shanghai International Automotive Industry Exhibition on Wednesday in Shanghai. Car models play an important role in promoting cars. [Photo/Agencies]|
Just by being glamorous, Wang Tingting plays a part in driving China's car boom and gets a decent return from it.
And she does it while wearing high heels, delicate dresses and posing in different ways around new car models. Her main job is to associate her image with the car beside her and stimulate sales.
Wang, 21, a car model for three years, and thousands of other models, play a meaningful role in promoting vehicle brands and sales on China's road to becoming the world's biggest car market, say manufacturers and brand experts.
This month, at the 14th Shanghai International Automotive Industry Exhibition, Wang was stunning, as usual, in a golden sequined minidress, high heels and pale stockings, serving as a model for BMW AG's Mini.
"I like doing car-modeling," she said. "The pay is getting higher and higher. It pays me more than doing other types of modeling, such as runway work."
BMW is paying Wang about 10,000 yuan ($1,537) a day, well above her average pay, for the 10-day auto show. She does five 20-minute presentations a day to promote the latest Mini models.
Wang, who is 177 cm tall, started her modeling career after finishing in the top 10 of the 2007 New Silk Road Model Competition. She is versatile, appearing in magazines and on television and runways. But she said her career is increasingly tilting toward car modeling because a huge demand, created by China's growing number of auto shows and other auto-related activities, is pushing up car models' wages.
Last year, modeling for Nissan Motor Co, Porsche Automobile Holding SE and Chongqing Chang'an Suzuki Automobile Co Ltd in various auto shows brought her more than 150,000 yuan, and this year she expects more.
"Not just me," she said. "Many of my model friends have the same intention, to take more jobs in car modeling. These jobs are easier to find and pay pretty handsomely."
Much room to grow
The boom in car modeling rides the surge in China's automotive sector. In 2009, China overtook the United States as the world's biggest auto market. Vehicle sales hit a record 13.64 million units, jumping from 9.38 million sold in 2008, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The nation secured the top spot again in 2010, with 18.06 million vehicles sold.
The ratio of car ownership in China is still low - 50 cars for every 1,000 people, compared with a world average of 160 and a US ratio of 860 - but that translates into great growth potential. As a result, domestic and foreign carmakers are rushing to introduce their latest models to the Chinese market, which inflates the demand for car models.
At the Shanghai auto show, which opened on Tuesday, more than 2,000 car and parts makers from 20 countries are premiering 75 model vehicles and displaying 1,100, making it one of the biggest auto shows worldwide.
Huang Shaohua, a senior editor with the auto channel of news portal NetEase.com Inc, described the number of auto shows in China as "explosive". He said there are 10 major auto shows nationwide and numerous smaller ones. Even some auto websites organize their own shows, he said.
A college program
Fang Hua, general manager of Paras Talent Management, a nationwide model agency founded in 2002, said her car model business has grown more than 30 percent annually over the past few years. "Every year, more and more carmakers and public relations companies come to us for models."
Fang's company has contracts with about 60 models. In response to the growing demand, it sponsored car model competitions in 2003 and 2005 to select young models and train them for the car model specialty.
She said she didn't know how many car models there are in China, "but my experience tells me the carmakers' demand has been surging. If a qualified car model wants, she can have work to do almost every day."
In 2005, Beijing Geely University set up a car model department paid for by the carmaker Geely Holding Group. Many students have applied, said one of the teachers, Jiang Linghan.
More than 500 students pay 12,000 yuan a year for the four-year program. Classes are on subjects such as basic auto knowledge, marketing, branding, bodybuilding and how to make poses around cars, Jiang said.
Some carmakers started the model selection process for the Shanghai auto show last year, because they wanted to make sure they got better models than their competitors, Fang said.
"The models really play an important role in promoting cars," she said. "The cars are dead but models alive. Their beauty and performance breathe life and color into a static car.
"Hot girls and luxury cars are linked together in China."
Jean-Marie Riviere, marketing and communication director at Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen Automobile Co, told local media at the auto show that car models are an important medium for a car company to communicate its brand value, which is important for a brand's long-term development.
He said he selects car models himself to make sure they are qualified and fit into his company's brand concept.
Riviere was not specific but other sources mentioned the model's height, the lines of her face and body, her overall aura. A cold-looking model might fit a Land Rover, for example, or a cute model might be right for a Mini.'A lot of pressure'
Car modeling on average pays more than other types of modeling - 3,000 to 50,000 yuan a day - because it's more demanding physically and mentally, Fang said.
Miao Doudou, a 20-year-old rookie car model, said she cried after her feet swelled by two sizes at the end of the first day working for Geely Holding Group at the Shanghai show.
"Being a car model is no piece of cake," she said. "The high-heeled shoes eat your feet. The loud music, the chaotic scene and the flashing lights make you feel dizzy. At the end of the day, my face is so numb that it's hard to squeeze out a smile.
"And you really work long hours. Though each presentation is short, you have to stay at the show all day long." Miao arrives at 7 am, two hours before the show opens, to get her dresses and makeup done and leaves after the show closes at 6 pm.
But the biggest headache, Miao said, is coping with the many "over-passionate" photographers and spectators. "Sometimes they would suddenly rush up and take photos with you. But you have to put up with it and be polite because it's about the carmakers' brand image.
"Some photographers are evil. They won't take your picture when you look perfect. They wait for slip-ups, such as when you unwittingly frown a little bit out of exhaustion. So it's a lot of pressure."
"Over-passionate" fans are not such a problem for Wei Guoqiang, a rare male car model, but he does find that his pants do not fit well after he stands for hours and his legs swell. "It's tiring, but I prefer doing it, because car modeling pays more than other jobs and working opportunities are abundant."
Ma Jian, a program manager and model with New Silk Road Model Management, one of China's biggest model agencies, thinks that modeling in the auto sector has the potential to go beyond striking poses.
"This type of standing-beside-the-car modeling is just the preliminary stage. Car models can blend in more by appearing in test-drive events and auto-club meetings," Ma said.
"I believe there are many new ways of involvement that we can develop. Car modeling as a profession has big potential in China."
FIRST PERSON WANG TINGTING
Everything has to fit the car's style
My modeling career started after I was named one of the top 10 models in the 2007 New Silk Road Model Competition and entered into a contract with New Silk Road Model Management.
I have had a pretty comprehensive modeling experience, appearing in magazines, on television and runways. But I took more jobs in car modeling when I found I generally get paid more being a car model in auto shows.
To be a car model, you have to find the connections between yourself and the car that you are presenting. Your poses, facial expression and dresses all have to fit in with the style of the car next to you.
I think I have been doing a good job presenting BMW AG's Mini-brand cars at the Shanghai auto show this time. And I think that's why they are paying me about 10,000 yuan a day to be their one and only car model.
But it's not as easy a job as most people might think. Actually, it's tougher than other types of modeling.
I get whacked-out at the end of the day, with my feet tortured by the high-heeled shoes and my face numb from constant smiling. I eat a box lunch with all the staff and work more than 10 hours a day.
Another headache is that I have to deal with the spectators and photographers who barge into my space, sometimes making bodily contact.
But overall I would like to take car-model jobs, because it pays me well and sometimes gives me media exposure, which is pretty important for a model's career.
Wang Tingting was talking with China Daily reporter Gao Changxin.
Li Fangfang contributed to this report.
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