China Musings #21: Chinese Women and Luxury Cars

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In a place like Shanghai, you get to see a lot of luxury cars. Maseratis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis – you could just stand at a street corner and count them as they drive by. At first I would notice the cars but then I also noticed the drivers. In far more than half of the cases, the drivers were female. 

I asked some Chinese friends, and they initially joked that it’s women driving the cars of their wealth hubbies, but that didn’t really add up as I observed some of these women. They looked like the owned the cars. What am I saying, they looked like they owned the city. They eluded confidence and an aura of success. It’s quite impressive. So I did some research, and was surprised about what I learned. 

So turns out that the purchasing power of women in China is almost on par with that of affluent Chinese men. Not very surprising considering that 51 percent of senior management positions are held by women, 2/3 of the world's female self-made billionaires are from China, and women in China contribute half of the household income.

But what *is* surprising is that affluent Chinese women have developed a global reputation for being avid buyers of luxury cars – in the biggest car market in which luxury cars already account for 10.3% of all car sales. In fact, Chinese women account for 40 per cent of Porsche and Maserati’s buyers in the Chinese market. In the rest of the world, women account for less than five per cent of buyers. Ferrari noticed that Chinese women prefer more powerful and more expensive models, and sales to Chinese women are about four times the sales to women in the west. 

The trend has driven a number of foreign prestige auto brands, such as Audi, Cadillac and Ferrari, to step up their efforts to market toward this consumer segment. Due to their varied cultural, social and economic backgrounds, Chinese women have very different buying habits than their Western counterparts. And some brands have responded creatively to these differences, developing marketing campaigns that appeal specifically to Chinese women (think along the lines of cocktail parties with Giorgio Armani’s cosmetics line and Italian lingerie company La Perla).

One thing you sense here is how ambitious Chinese women are. Paired with their financial means, this translates into a strong desire for more “high powered” products than women in the US or Europe. Luxury cars in particular have become a way for Chinese women to display their power, an outspoken symbol of their newfound status in society. Maserati in particular is a brand that meets these aspirations: it’s a very performance-oriented sports car, bold, innovative, and with a touch of glamour. As a matter of fact, I never seen as many pink and purple Maseratis as I have seen here in China.  

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