Reporter Notebook: Luxury Sales Handcuffed in China

WardsAuto writers pass along the buzz at this week’s Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI.

August 6, 2015

3 Min Read
Yao Lu Chinarsquos senior business analystState Information Center
Yao Lu, China’s senior business analyst-State Information Center.Full View Photography

China’s anti-corruption campaign to root out graft in government and business has hit the conspicuous-consumption crowd hard. The casinos of Macau aren’t as busy and luxury-car sales in the country are waning.

And the culprit? Well, he could be in jail.

“As part of the anti-corruption campaign, some of the rich individuals, high-net-worth individuals, have had their ability to buy such a vehicle severely limited,” Yao Lu, China’s senior business analyst-State Information Center, tells Wednesday’s crowd at the China session at MBS.

How bad is it? BMW’s now-departed chief Norbert Reithofer complained earlier this year, “We only sold 14 Rolls-Royces in (China in) February.” Oh, the humanity!

But don’t shed a tear in your beer for luxury-goods manufacturers just yet. Lu notes they’ve enjoyed success in the Red Dragon. Some 40% of all the world’s luxury goods are bought by the Chinese in China, she says.

A Forrest Full of Broccoli

A day later, the food-filled MBS presentation of Alabama Honda dealer Forrest McConnell III still was on the minds of many at the conference. McConnell had used broccoli to illustrate the anemic popularity of hybrids and EVs.

To wit, this statement, which seemingly came out of the blue, from CAR’s Qiang Hong at the China session: “Chinese don’t like raw broccoli. They like stir-fried broccoli.”

Good to know.

Pardo Dishes Pardo-isms

Auto and industrial designer Camilo Pardo – best known in auto circles as the stylist of the second-generation (2005-06) Ford GT supercar, also is known for having blunt and sometimes titillating things to say.

At the Management Briefing Seminars “Car of Tomorrow: Design and Technology” session on Wednesday, Pardo shows an array of his design efforts, then delights attendees with a few “Pardo-isms.”

On the dangers of clinic-inspired auto design: “I’m sure the (Pontiac) Aztek looked good. At least at first.”

On why performance is enjoying a renaissance with auto buyers: “The economy is good, people are celebrating. Then something will go bad – and we’ll be back (driving) in little boxes.”

Pardo says his favorite Cadillac is the SRX, although he couldn’t immediately recall its name. But he said its tapering-roof design is at odds with the utility most buyers want from a CUV or SUV. That’s why the super-square Ford Flex looks the way it does, he says. “It’s like an auditorium in there.”

‘Let’s Step Outside’

Christopher Grundler, the EPA’s director-Office of Transportation and Air Quality, clearly is miffed with journalists. Stories in the media are perpetuating myths about the CAFE rules that are not true, he tells attendees at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars.

He then spends a good portion of his time on stage debunking various mischaracterizations and says it is a myth that CAFE regulations ignore consumer choice and are trying to force everyone into small cars.

To wrap up his comments, he tersely sums up by saying, “Any media members who want to speak to me about this can meet me outside.”

Most reporters assume it was a simple invitation to chat. But there was just enough edge in his voice to leave some scribes wondering if they would be cruising for a bruising if they took him up on his offer.

Don’t Show ’Em Snow

There’s a shortage of new-age techies, so General Motors’ Steve Kiefer, vice president-global purchasing and supply chain, says he has been recruiting on the West Coast, where such talent is abundant.

“First we have to get over the climate issue, so we bring them in during the summer,” he says.

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