Few Campgrounds, High Gas Prices, Driving Restrictions Crimping Development
It’s no secret that recent years have seen a rapidly growing slice of the Chinese population fall under the spell of the automobile, with the country surpassing the US two years ago to become the world’s largest auto market. As a growing middle class spends more time (and money) on domestic travel, one development that’s taken shape recently has been a burgeoning interest in that very Western of pastimes: road trips. And for a tiny but potentially lucrative sliver of those comparatively wealthy, road-bound Chinese, this fascination is driving demand for another symbol of the open road: the RV.
Though the RV market in China is barely in its infancy, the country’s niche consumer has proven to be highly motivated and willing to spend, despite the comparatively high price of ownership in the country. At the recent Beijing International Recreational Vehicle and Camping Exhibition, dealers showed off their wares as visitors weaved their way through an assemblage of motorhomes, pop-up campers and off-road vehicles. Apparently, many were not dissuaded by the high price tags — which can reach 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million) after import taxes for a class C RV like the Dynamax Grand Sport GT — or the underdeveloped nature of China’s RV industry.
As Greddy Chan of Zhejiang-based RV distributor Feishen Group optimistically told the Wall Street Journal at the RV and Camping Exhibition, “There are lots of well-to-do people [here],” adding, “This is just the first batch [of RVs]. We’ve got more on the way.”
Though imports have increased, demand is growing among a certain wealthy Chinese demographic, and recent years have seen RV clubs pop up in a few Chinese cities while dedicated websites and magazines have emerged in earnest, make no mistake about it: the RV is very much a niche, luxury product in China and the market is decades behind North America and Europe. According to China Daily, out of a population of 1.3 billion, by the end of last year China had only around 6,000 privately owned RVs. Compare that to 8.9 million RVs in the US, 6.5 million in Europe and 78,000 in Japan. This means there’s immense potential in China, but it’ll be a long road ahead for the industry.
Along with high gas and maintenance costs, few skilled repair shops, an underdeveloped nationwide highway system, and a dearth of outfitted camping lots, the need for a specialized driver’s license and confusingly decentralized provincial policies stand in the way of the development of the Chinese RV industry. Regardless, manufacturers both international and domestic, dealers, and enthusiasts continue to soldier on. So when could we see the industry come into its own? As China Daily puts it:
The good news is that many observers believe the boom times will arrive in three to five years – the bad news is that people have been saying that for quite a while now.
In 2010, when the first Beijing International RV and Camping Exhibition was held in the southwestern Fangshan district, many insiders were confident that the RV era would arrive soon.
Now, with another exhibition in full swing, many insiders are still struggling with the same problems they faced at the beginning.
“Having a little faith is important,” said Liu Yujiao at Great Wall Motor Co, “Many industries, when put into a Chinese context, grow beyond the international pattern, like the explosion in sales of cell phones and private cars. Perhaps the next pleasant surprise will arrive in an RV.”