Auto Industry

Paint it black

Is the Chinese government Audi’s single biggest customer?

Paint it black

If Beijing does announce a “Buy Chinese” policy to promote the sale of locally manufactured cars, a first step will be to tell its own officials. The next task will be to get on the phone to the Germans.

German sedans have a hugely disproportionate share of the recession-resistant market in luxury cars sold to Chinese government officials. Audi models (like the popular A6) hold pole position as the apparatchik’s auto of choice, although BMW is trying hard to make inroads of its own. The Economic Observer says Audi sold 110,000 units in China in 2008 and estimates the total sales of vehicles to government to have reached Rmb80 billion ($11.7 billion) in 2008.

Volkswagen, Audi’s parent, set up shop in China in 1978, and would perhaps argue that, given the Audi models are made at a plant in Changchun, they are as much Chinese cars as German ones.

Why are they so popular? Audi’s advertising has been offering Vorsprung durch Technik (‘advancement through technology’) since the 1970s. But in China, advancement often comes through association with the powerful. Being known as the bureaucrats’ favourite does Audi no harm whatsoever, with many purchasers looking to bask in the aura of authority that the car confers.

Other motorists are also more likely to grit their teeth and give way if you queue-jump in a dark-windowed A6, of course.

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