Chinese car sales trail consumer aspirations
City planners in China face a rough ride if the 80 per cent of mainland respondents to an internet survey realise their ambitions to own cars.
Fortunately, authorities still have time to build extra roads - only 26 per cent of those polled plan to make their dream purchase in the next 12 months.
In a boon to the mainland car industry, which has seen market growth scale back from 75 per cent two years ago to 15.17 per cent last year, Chinese respondents demonstrated the most ardent lust for cars in the poll of 14,100 internet users in 28 countries by market analysts ACNielsen.
The firm said the high aspiration rate corresponded with the country's third-bottom ranking in terms of car penetration. Only 31 per cent of respondents claimed to own a car, compared with 92 per cent in the United States.
But green groups need not push the panic button too soon. Regardless of any impact a peak in crude oil production may have on car demand in future, the results of the survey do not represent market demand in China as a whole.
Philippe Coquelle, director and automotive specialist at ACNielsen China, said a separate telephone poll conducted last year in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai found only 7 per cent of respondents intended to buy a car in the coming year.
The most recent poll had targeted internet users because of the greater likelihood they would find a car affordable. The results revealed how car manufacturers should focus on internet marketing to reach potential buyers, Mr Coquelle said. 'In China, buyers don't get information about car models at the dealerships, they go online or get recommendations from friends,' he said.
ACNielsen expects mainland demand for cars to pick up as the market shifts from largely first-timers to replacement buyers.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong ranked lowest in both penetration - 20 per cent - and intention to buy, despite more than 60 per cent of respondents nurturing aspirations to own a car.
'Hong Kong is a status market with a large percentage of the population who cannot afford to buy a car or who do not need one because of public transportation. This means that people will hold off until they reach a point where they can afford a luxury model for weekend or recreational use,' Mr Coquelle said.
Regional rival Singapore ranked third lowest in car penetration with 39 per cent.
Japan's car giants received a mixture of good and bad news in the results of the survey. Japanese respondents ranked alongside Hong Kong in last place in terms of their intentions to buy a car, but Toyota and Honda were the first and second choices globally when it came to future purchases by consumers.
Toyota received more good news from the United States, where Ford currently enjoys top spot with 18 per cent of current ownership. The Japanese firm now ranks first in terms of future purchases with 15 per cent.
Globally respondents ranked price as the key consideration in buying a new car, followed by performance, fuel consumption and safety.
But underlining the fact that cars are still regarded largely as status symbols in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region, 40 per cent of respondents in China, Taiwan and Indonesia ranked brand image as a key factor.