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Youth driving sales in China's vehicle market

By LI FUSHENG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-02-20 07:08
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Great Wall Motors' Ora brand displays vehicles at the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, better known as China Joy, in Shanghai in 2021. [PHOTO/VCG]

Automakers tailoring models, sales strategies to suit tastes of nation's younger generation

A growing number of car commercials are appealing to a younger audience, depicting the sporty design of vehicles or how drivers can give voice commands to the fancy and fast models they drive.

They are doing this for a good reason, at least in China, according to a recent report by global consulting firm Roland Berger and China's Auto Home Research Institute.

The report said those aged from 21 to 30 accounted for 27 percent of car buyers in China last year, up from 16 percent in 2017.

Car buyers aged from 31 to 40 still made up the largest group, totaling 40 percent in 2022, but that was six percentage points lower than five years ago.

Those aged from 41 to 50 saw their proportion decline as well, from 26 percent in 2017 to 21 percent last year.

Another major change in car buyer demographics over the past five years was the growing number of female consumers, said the report.

Data showed that 34 percent of car buyers in 2022 were women, up from 27 percent in 2017.

Of them, those aged from 21 to 30 saw their proportion of 14 percent in 2017 double last year, while those aged from 31 to 40 fell from 51 percent to 44 percent in the same period.

That explains why many carmakers are striving to woo young car buyers, offering them fancy onboard features, financial schemes with lower monthly installments and clubs where they can mingle.

The average age of Mercedes-Benz car owners in China is less than 36, which is around 10 to 15 years younger than its customer base in Europe and the United States, according to Chinese media reports.

The carmaker has been doing a lot to win the hearts of the young who demand a luxury and digital experience.

For instance, Mercedes-Benz has been a partner of the online game League of Legends since 2017. It unveiled a visual concept model during the final of the game's world championship last year.

Car owners of even more luxurious brands are apparently younger in China as well, a stark contrast to silver-haired owners in other major markets.

Bernd Pichler, managing director of Bentley Motors Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, said their customers' average age is 39.

The British brand's female buyers in China account for roughly 20 percent, double the global average.

Porsche owners in China are 35 years old on average, and female buyers make up half of the total, said the premium brand of Volkswagen group.

Some volume brands are going further. Wuling said its popular Hongguang Mini EV is "tailor-made for young women in tier four-to-five cities and towns".

Its statistics show that 75 percent of its buyers are the post-90s generation, of which 78 percent are female.

Last year, the model's sales hit 554,000 units as the world's bestselling mini-sized electric model, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

Ora, the electric arm of Great Wall Motors, labels itself as a brand that "loves women more".

The carmaker said it has adopted a series of solutions into its Ballet Cat sedan, which sports a smaller steering wheel, an LED mirror, a makeup compartment and a selfie camera, in response to its survey of female drivers.

In 2022, SAIC's Roewe launched an SUV named Totoro, targeted at female consumers. Inspired by the animated movie My Neighbor Totoro, the compact SUV has fashionable styling and offers Totoro-related color options.

Another finding of the Roland Berger report is that Chinese car buyers are more open to new technologies, with 75 percent of the respondents believing autonomous cars will be a common sight on the road by 2030. Globally, the figure is 50 percent.

In China, driving-assist functions have become must-haves in newly launched models, including affordable compact cars priced at less than 100,000 yuan ($14,370).

Statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology show that more than 30 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in the first half of 2022 had Level 2 driving-assist functions.

Xu Changming, deputy director of the State Information Center, said Generation Z will be the driving force in the development of China's smart vehicle sector.

"They have grown up using the internet and artificial intelligence, so they like new technologies," said Xu, who estimated that by 2030 about 35 percent of China's car buyers will have been born after 1995.

Also, Chinese car buyers have grown fond of local brands, according to the report.

Sales of Chinese carmakers accounted for 49.9 percent of the country's passenger vehicle market in 2022, which is partially because of their competitive electric products, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The CAAM statistics show that sales of models from Chinese brands in 2022 tallied 11.76 million units, up 22 percent year-on-year.

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