EVs, nostalgia and cafe exhibitions: China’s luxury car collectors

    Home to the world’s largest number of billionaires, China’s luxury car collector culture is booming. Expert YouTubers dissect the industry.
    A Porsche supercar covered with 400,000 gems exhibited at the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai (2021). Image: Feature China/Future Publishing/ Getty Images
      Published   in Technology

    Luxury car culture in China is complex: Automotive imports are often subject to sky-high taxes; many post-market modifications make cars illegal to drive; there are government limits to purchasing; and roads are kitted out with speed and noise pollution monitors.

    Yet, this is not halting the burgeoning of the mainland’s luxury car market – estimated at $154.67 billion in 2024, it is forecast to expand to $181.49 billion by 2029. For context, Europe’s luxury car market size is reportedly valued at $160.5 billion today.

    Buyers in China comprise the rising demographic of ultra-wealthy consumers who collect prestigious automotives.

    “In recent years, the Chinese car collector community has continued to expand, and collectors show great enthusiasm for and investment in collecting various rare and valuable cars,” YouTuber @ChineseCarReviewer, aka Galib, a PhD scholar who is garnering a niche following for his review videos, tells Jing Daily.

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    Another YouTuber focused on analyzing China’s car culture, Elliot Richards points to the factors behind this rising fan culture.

    “Growth in interest comes from Zhou Guanyu being part of F1, livestreams of Goodwood Festival of Speed, and Le Mans 24 Hours, which means there is a whole new legion of fans of motorsport and car culture. There is even a Chinese Goodwood, called OCR, which celebrates old car culture and debuted in 2023 in Shaoxing, Zhejiang,” Richards says.

    The Outdoor Car Retro Festival (OCR) reflects just how much enthusiasm is brimming in the Chinese industry, with fans coming together to marvel at a range of classic and new models, whether that is a RWB Porsche 993, DeLorean DMC-12, or a Ferrari 348TS.

    China’s collectors are showing increasing interest in domestic automakers as well. Brands such as BYD, Hongqi, and Geely now produce high-tech supercars, from the touchless scissor doors of the BYD U9 to Geely creating the world’s first AI-powered drift car.

    The BYD U9 with automatic scissor doors. Image: BYD
    The BYD U9 with automatic scissor doors. Image: BYD

    EV culture#

    Chinese cars are defined by the nation’s technological innovation.

    “As we know, electric vehicles (EVs) are in line with the trend of sustainable development. Chinese electric manufacturers sold more than 60℅ of EVs among some of the most famous German and Japanese brands in 2022,” says Galib, who characterizes the global proliferation of EVs as a key factor in the Chinese luxury car market.

    China is the world’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles (EVs), and production continues to expand. In 2022, the country was responsible for 59% of the global EV market, according to the EV Volumes database. Sales of new EVs in the country surged by 82% from the previous year, surpassing 6 million units.

    According to Galib, the most popular EV models in China among collectors and consumers include the BYD Seal 06 and BYD Qin L, which are both under $14,000, as well as the BYD Sea Lion, Dolphin, and Song L. Tesla still makes his list, with the Model Y, alongside Huawei’s M9, China’s Nio ES6, and the Huawei M9, all of which are luxury, but not supercars.

    However, as China is reportedly home to the most billionaires in the world, supercar collector culture is also on the up.

    On the mainland’s niche automotive culture, Richards says, “The people who collect cars tend to be the ultra-wealthy who don’t have one or two cars, but warehouses full of them.”

    He says many high-net-worth collectors even own their own private roads and racetracks. Some collectors utilize coffee shops to exhibit their models. Luback Coffee’s store in Hangzhou, for example, displays a collection of vintage cars.

    Weibo user 髙晖 outside Luback coffee store. Image: 髙晖 on Weibo
    Weibo user 髙晖 outside Luback coffee store. Image: 髙晖 on Weibo

    “Most collectors stay connected together, but tend to be private individuals who have a team of people scouring auctions around the world to add to their collections, but remain behind the scenes. You will rarely see these cars on the road due to the strict licensing requirements, essentially banning any imported classic cars over 20 years old from the road,” Richards adds.

    Restrictions preventing some cars from being driven in China has fueled the rise of non-car enthusiasts collecting models for investment purposes. According to a study by car leasing firm Vanarama, the average value increase over a decade for old models is 97%, and investing in the right car can still add 33% to its value from just storing it in a garage for five years.

    Driving nostalgia#

    Richards says nostalgia is a significant motivator for these car investors.

    “You see singular collectors who collect old BMWs or Mercedes (within the 20 year limit) – once considered premium in the early 1990s in China – who now spend a lot of money keeping them on the road, taking them to events and being very active in the Chinese classic car community,” he says. “This is a very active and public community comprising members who want to share their dream cars from the 90s and who tend to be younger, spend their disposable income on keeping these cars alive and post about it on Xiaohongshu.”

    On Chinese millennial and Gen Z collectors, he adds, “The wealthy collectors of tomorrow are interested in the JDM (Japanese domestic market) cars of the 1990s, such as the Honda NSX and Toyota Supra – only a handful of models of these are in the country and remain a focal point for young people who grew up watching Initial D; but all JDM models of this era have a very strong following.”

    As with other luxury segments such as fashion, heritage brands with a long history continue to attract immense interest from Chinese consumers, such as Porsche, Rolls Royce, and Bentley.

    Yet, there are Chinese classics that are garnering attention, too. One of the most famous collectors of Chinese automotives is Luo Wenyou, who exhibits over 100 Chinese and foreign vintage limousines in the Beijing Classic Car Museum, which he founded in the capital’s northern Huairou district.

    Climbing interest in retro models is fueling the growth of events like the OCR Festival and Shanghai Auto Culture Festival in April this year, which involved antique car rides, and communities in China.

    As luxury automotives are increasingly perceived as cultural objects to be collected in mainland China, the demographics entering the space are diversifying, and the level of bespoke customization opportunities is broadening.

    • The mainland’s luxury car market is one of the world leaders, estimated at $154.67 billion in 2024, it is forecast to grow to $181.49 billion by 2029.
    • As a result of the complexity of owning and driving supercars or customized vehicles, many luxury car collectors in China exhibit their models in diverse ways, such as in coffee shops or at festivals like the Outdoor Car Retro Festival (OCR) in Shaoxing in Zhejiang.
    • All luxury brands can learn from Chinese collectors’ approach to luxury cars: prioritizing bespoke customization, rarity, communities, national pride, and nostalgia.
    • Young demographics in particular are driven by nostalgic cars, such as those from the 1990s like the Honda NSX and Toyota Supra.
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