Posted by Abe Sauer on September 8, 2011 11:01 AM
China auto dealers are approaching slumping sales with aggressive marketing tactics. How aggressive? Well, at one VW China (大众汽车) showroom in the oil town of Daqing, in northern Heilongjiang province, dealers pulled out all the stops, and clothing, to attract buyer eyeballs.
It's not that surprising that this naked craziness would happen in Daqing. The city, an "economic zone" built more or less to service China's largest oil field, ranks eighth in per capita GDP of all mainland cities, just behind Shanghai, and well ahead of Beijing. There is a lot of money sloshing around in Daqing.
It seems that the car models started out in bikinis, but things soon changed, and before long, the VW models were maybe not getting as much attention as the dealers intended. As one commenter on CarNewsChina.com notes, "I bet the dealer is having many test drives." (More photos at the Made in China Gadget blog.)
China has recently begun banging the drum about tumultuous auto sales as well as stressing the need for more homegrown brands. Beijing would like to see some of its own name brands getting a bigger piece of the 17 million vehicle a year pie that now makes up China auto output. One way it means to do this is through technology sharing, something GM is learning the hard way with its attempt to sell the Volt in China.
Meanwhile, thanks to rising prices and a packed market, 2011 car sales have risen just 5 percent over 2010, compared to a 33 percent jump between 2010 and 2009. That 5 percent growth is well behind the 10 percent per year growth through 2015 that has been forecasted. In the past, a brain dead dealership could sell cars in China; the marketplace is now highly competitive, and getting more so.
Volkswagen, long in the China, is currently having it out with GM for top brand in the market there. GM recently scored a victory, announcing that Shanghai GM China sales set an August record, posting a 13.4 percent YOY largely thanks to string Buick sales. VW's sales for 2011 are up 12.9% YOY, and China remains VW's biggest market.
And more than anything, the naked VW stunt throws into stark contrast the idea that many in the West may have about how much control the stereotypically oppressive central government in Beijing really has. Indeed, it would probably surprise many to know that China is home to, say, co-ed nudist baths.
Maybe more than anything, the case of the naked VW models supports the old Chinese saying "山高皇帝远," or "mountains are high and the emperor is far away." Translation: the further one gets from the critical eye of the central government, the less one needs to worry about it.