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Chinese RV Market is Slow in Gaining Traction

Scenes like this are becoming more common in China but not quickly enough to create a thriving market for RVs in the world's largest country.

Chinese consumers love big SUVs and many of these massive status symbols are never driven off-road. So it’s no surprise that bigger recreational vehicles face a long bumpy road to acceptance by luxury-loving drivers. Qu Zhi reports.

It may be that the Roma or gypsy horse-drawn wagons were the original recreational vehicles or RVs that today have become a motorized culture and phenomenon in many countries known as RV lifestyle.

The self-contained RVs typically include kitchen, bathroom, sitting room and sleeping areas. They can be small or large, simple or luxurious. Some are motorized, some are trailers hitched to pickup trucks. They tend to be popular in areas where people enjoy camping and there are dedicated RV sites, and there are also travel clubs.

But they are clunky and gas-guzzlers.

As of last year, the United States had seen 100 years of caravan travel, but in China, RVs are still unfamiliar, except through American TV series or films.

China is the world’s biggest auto market, and SUVs are extremely popular, especially as status symbols that are seldom taken off the road. But not RVs. Most Chinese wouldn’t consider buying one. They’d rather drive a nice car and stay in a nice hotel.

Recently, at Shanghai Top Marques 2012, an exclusive and luxury show, a travel trailer towed by a pickup truck, made a splash. Visitors queued up to take a look at the Flying Cloud vehicle, which is called Airstream in the United States; the trailer is 7 meters long and costs $160,600.

Despite the lines, only a handful of Chinese visitors said they would actually consider buying an average imported RV, priced at one-third the cost of the Flying Cloud.

“It would kill me to drive this,” says a businessman from Zhejiang Province. “This is too huge for me and I can’t think of any place to park it.”

Another middle-aged man said he had researched RVs but he feared he wouldn’t be able to maneuver such a large vehicle or find a place to park.

“Where should I go after getting this mega car?” asks Luo Dan, a department director of a private wealth management fund. Given China’s population and what she called “paralyzed traffic,” Luo says it would be impossible to enjoy the same open-road holidays enjoyed in North America and Europe.

“There are three problems for RV development in China: policies and regulations, supporting facilities and consumer recognition,” says Han Xiaolu, director of Asia Affairs for the RV Industry Association.

He tells Shanghai Daily that potential customers are confused about what kind of registration and driver’s license they need. Campgrounds are another problem because without parking, electricity and water hookups, there’s no way to enjoy RV travel.

“I don’t think people don’t buy RVs because they can’t afford them but because they have little knowledge about RV travel and holidays,” Han says.

Get out into nature

Good news is that recently at the Yangtze River Delta Tourism Cooperation Conference, Shanghai Tourism Administration issued an outline for RV travel in the delta region in which 14 campgrounds in Shanghai were revealed.

Since more people are interested in travel and getting out into nature, policies and facilities will eventually catch up, he says.

Han says that leasing is a good way to start for RV enthusiasts because the lease company will provide a designated campground. Most owners or potential buyers are looking at RVs that are less than 6 meters long, with 7 people at maximum, which the normal driving license and plate can fit.

Chen Quanlong, manager of an industrial and trade company, bought his first Great Wall RV last New Year’s Day. Chen, who was born in the 1970s, says he enjoys “quality time” in his motor home and is considering buying a better one.


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