Editor’s Note: The following is a story from Financial Times examining the growing, but still infant Chinese RV industry, and the challenges for RVers looking to adopt the lifestyle.
Wang Xudong loves camping so much that he named his month-old twins the Chinese equivalent of “Cam” and “Ping.” And the kind of camping he loves is caravanning.
Sitting in a deck chair outside his Chinese-made motorhome parked in Beijing’s largest “RV park” – where a luxury imported American recreational vehicle can be rented – Wang talked about China’s nascent RV culture and the joys of life on the open road.
He tells a tale of urban Chinese who are worn out by work yet still happy to battle Beijing’s gargantuan traffic jams on Friday night just for the chance to wake up the next day and breathe the fresh air of an RV park.
“Even in a traffic jam, I am happy,” says Wang, who last Friday fought through an evening of fearsome thunderstorms to arrive at Beijing’s Nanshan RV park at 10 p.m. – where he immediately set about barbecuing his supper in the pouring rain.
It is all worth it, he says, for the chance to get away from it all and engage in the kind of games that grown boys everywhere love: racing around in all-terrain vehicles, grilling meat and jumping waves on the jet ski. Blink and this could be Los Angeles.
But the pot of gruel boiling in the rice cooker on Wang’s picnic table says it is not: this is China and it is not yet a kingdom of RV enthusiasts. On paper, China has about 100 caravan parks – but most of them are pretty useless, since they are neither located on tourist routes nor within reach of anything that might be called scenery.
So RV pioneers need a caravan with Chinese characteristics: a generator, a tank that can hold water for three or four days and a shovel to bury several days worth of sewage, in the absence of a US-style sewage hookup.
Then there’s Grandma: the Chinese middle class love to travel with the grandparents in tow and China’s 30 or 40 RV manufacturers are happy to make caravans to order, with facilities for Grandpa’s wheelchair.
Carting the elders around in an RV is “a form of filial piety”, says Wang, enlisting no less an ally than Confucius to support his caravanning habit.
With only 5,000 RV owners, China has a long way to go before it catches up with the U.S., the spiritual home of the RV, where there are nearly 9 million caravanners. But Wang forecasts that RVs will catch on like BMWs in China in the years to come, as a symbol of an all new Chinese way of life that embraces nature, mobility, and the right to stop and go at will – a Route 66 kind of lifestyle that could not be more different from riding a Chinese bicycle.
Liu Yujiao heads the RV sales department at one of China’s leading RV makers, Great Wall Motors. He says lots of people in Europe and America have time and money for RV travel, while the super-rich in China have money but no time.
So China’s RVs are driven by small entrepreneurs, white-collar workers and retired government officials. They buy locally produced RVs for travel or entertaining while the überwealthy sometimes buy imported caravans to impress their business contacts. Liu expects the costs of production to drop once Chinese RV makers start to enjoy the economies of scale that only a nation of 1.3 billion potential caravanners can deliver.
But that may take a while: at the moment, RVs are still so novel that when one rocks up at a motorway toll booth, staff are often baffled how to charge for it. Even getting a number plate for an RV can be hard.