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Chinese enjoy more lifestyle choices at the wheel
( 2004-01-01 15:26) (Xinhua)

Chinese consumers are buying cars at an ever greater rate, spurred on by new government policies that allow banks to lend on vehicles and, for some of them, by the desire to impress the neighbors.

Over 3.91 million motor vehicles were sold out of 4 million manufactured in the January-November period of 2003.

"China's auto demand is expected to rise to 10 million by 2010, second only to North America," said Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice ministerin charge of the State Development and Reform Commission in mid-December.

Rising income accounts for only part of the buying frenzy. A car, like a laptop computer and a house, has long been regarded asa coveted emblem of a middle-class life.

The Chinese government's policy to encourage individuals to buycars or houses by installment through bank credit has given a strong boost to consumption of luxury items.

The concept of credit is relatively new in China.

"I just have to pay a 20 percent down-payment, a mere 40,000 yuan (4,820 dollars) of the total cost, and the rest will be covered in eight years by a monthly payment of 1,600 yuan (193 dollars)," said Wang Zong, an air-conditioner company manager who has just bought a new car.

"Next year will see auto production reach 5 million. It's no big problem to increase by 1 million if auto-related policies remain stable," said Li Jingsheng, director of the China auto information research institute.

Major world automakers, including German's Volkswagen and BMW, General Motors of the United States, and Toyota and Nissan of Japan, have rushed to enter the lucrative market by forming joint ventures and strategic alliances with Chinese partners.

The 110,000 yuan (13,300 US dollars) Jetta produced by FAW-Volkswagen, the joint venture between Volkswagen and China's FirstAutomotive Works (FAW), are popular for stable performance on the Chinese market.

Luxury cars like locally produced the BMW-3 and BMW-5 series have also been well received by the Chinese. Some 800 were sold since their debut in mid-October.

Among domestic cars, this year's star QQ, a mini-car launched in summer, has been in the spotlight. It's competitive price (49,800 yuan or 6,000 dollars ) and colorful looks make it a "pet" formany young people.

"Owning a car is no big news now. Some people come to me and decide to buy a car within one hour as if they are buying a TV. It's amazing," said Gao Lelin, a car salesman at the Yayunchun auto market, the biggest of its kind in Beijing.

"It's especially true when the price is below 150,000 yuan," Gao said. He referred to the amount as "affordable" for many families nowadays.

But it was unimaginable two decades ago when China was at the threshold of reform and open-up. A TV set, sewing machine, bicycle and wrist watch were four big "household items" longed for by most Chinese, who never even dreamed of owning a car.

"A car means more lifestyle choices for the Chinese," said WangZong, the air-conditioner company manager. "You can still ride bikes or walk to enjoy the fallen leaves on the sidewalk, but surely a car will wheel you to a more exciting life."

It has become a common practice that car owners drive tens or hundreds kilometers away to enjoy leisure time in tourist destinations, or visit relatives and friends in other cities.

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