Sales of recreational vehicles are booming in mainland China, to the surprise of even dealers.
The South China Morning Post reported that last month, a four-day exhibition of the home-like vehicles in Beijing ended with dealers reporting robust sales. About 40,000 visitors streamed into the show, and more than 500 vehicles were sold.
“It is crazy,” said Li Mengsha , a sales consultant with Beijing Camper RV, the largest distributor for RVs on the mainland. “Many vehicles came straight to the show from seaports. Most were sold before I had a chance to step inside for a look. And people have kept coming even after the show was over. Their enthusiasm has exceeded my wildest guesses.”
Recreational vehicles have been on the mainland market for more than two decades, but they had long been regarded as a luxury purchase for niche buyers because of their high prices and lack of supporting facilities such as camping sites.
But recently, the demand has exploded. “A few years ago, there were only a few thousand RVs in China. But now the total number might reach tens of thousands, though no official figure has been given,” Li said.
When the first RV and caravan show was held in 2010, there were only about 40 vehicles on exhibition, bringing a few million yuan in sales, according to Li. Last year’s show generated about 500 million yuan in revenue.
“The boom surprised everyone in the industry,” Li said. She listed possible causes behind it: rising middle class incomes, a new generation of retirees who were more amenable to the lifestyle, and climbing housing prices. “But none can fully explain the sudden growth. It just came.”
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The recreational vehicle lifestyle is gaining a die-hard fan-base in China.
International Business Times reported that the American dream of living on the open road, seeing the country on your own set of wheels, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city is also becoming a Chinese dream.
Granted, China remains behind even its much smaller neighbors South Korea and Japan in RV numbers, but it is quickly catching up. In 2001, there was only one single, lonely RV in the entire country. By 2010, there were 900 on the road. By the end of 2012, there are expected to be 6,000.
But even if the Chinese appear to be seduced by the American image of motorhome ownership, some U.S. RV makers are still wary of doing business in China.
Peter Orthwein, the CEO Thor Industries Inc., said in an interview that there was still “too much uncertainty” in the China market for him to want to open up facilities there or enter into a joint venture with a Chinese company. Too many complex factors, such as regional Chinese laws against civilians towing vehicles, remain barriers to making a more significant investment, in Orthwein’s opinion.
“The market is growing, but a long ways away,” said Orthwein. Even if it were more developed, Orthwein asked, “Why do they need us?” Chinese companies could “copy the technology and do it themselves,” he says.
Chinese companies are eager to market their own towable and motorized designs against famed Western makers like Winnebago. China’s super-rich have been eager to import larger U.S.-made caravans, but the purchases are mostly meant to impress business partners and rivals rather than to actually be taken on road trips.
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