British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association director general John Lewis and chairman Nigel Stead visited the Beijing Motor Show to cement ties with some of their Chinese leasing association counterparts. John shares his experiences with Fleet News
After landing and zipping through passport control at a very modern and efficient Beijing International Airport, we were met by a smart young Chinese woman, speaking perfect English, who offered to be our guide.
Without asking for any money, she ushered us on to the airport’s driverless train system and ensured that we found our way out of the arrivals area and located some transport into the city itself.
We hadn’t arranged this special welcome in advance, nor were we listed on any flight schedule as VIPs.
The fact is that we looked like foreign businessmen, and China wants to do business. It knows how important first impressions can be.
This approach was in full effect at the Beijing Motor Show.
Although the officials couldn’t control the vehicles creating traffic gridlock on the streets outside the show, they managed to entice every major global manufacturer to their event.
There were hundreds of cars on display, ranging from the Bugatti Veyron supercar (approximately £1.9 million including China’s luxury tax) to a city car from China’s Chery (somewhat less).
Western manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Audi and General Motors already have huge sales in the country, and have formed joint ventures with local companies to build cars for the market.
Chinese manufacturers have a reputation for brazenly cloning western models, even down to the car badge, but there was plenty of evidence that they are growing in confidence and ambition and going it alone.
One manufacturer, Chery, unveiled a new model (the A3 sedan) designed by those automotive cosmetic surgeons at Pininfarina.
It may not have been their finest day at the office, but the end product was a car that would look perfectly acceptable on any dealer’s forecourt, or in fact in any leasing fleet, in the UK.
Chery is already selling cars across south-east Asia, South America and Australia.
It is heading into eastern Europe and could be hitting our shores within three or four years.
Chery is not alone.
A government official I spoke to admitted that Chinese carmakers need to meet the stringent emissions and safety targets required by western European markets.
But he was confident that they would, at a hefty discount to many other manufacturers.
This could present a great opportunity for car rental companies in the UK who are being starved of vehicles by some of the major western manufacturers.
Using great-value Chinese imports of acceptable quality could enable them to provide even lower-cost rentals, particularly of smaller cars.
Chinese manufacturers will take longer to establish a presence in the UK corporate leasing market, but the rapidly-
developing Chinese leasing industry will give them an opportunity to develop their offering.
As you would expect from a communist state, politics and business are still very much interconnected, and so our meeting with the China Leasing Association also included a meeting with the local director of the bureau of commerce and the foreign investment development department.
Again, first impressions were important.
The first stage of our meeting was a very formal affair, conducted in Chinese, with each of us speaking in turn through a translator.
But once the official business was over, our hosts were able to converse with us in perfect English.
We were later given a tour of one of the branches run by China’s leading domestic car rental firm, Shouqi Car Rental, which has a fleet of more than 4,000 vehicles.
Traditionally, companies like Shouqi have not seen a major market for car leasing in China because of issues such as unstable car prices, a poor credit rating system and a lack of regulation to cover the industry.
However, these problems are gradually being resolved. Hence our invite to China.
Their aim in inviting us over was to learn from the UK car rental and leasing industry.
They have a rapidly-developing market, both from local companies and major global organisations setting up in China, and they are looking for advice on serving the corporate customer, whether it is with short-term rental, asset finance or fleet leasing.
Some of their members are looking for foreign investment. Long term, some of them are looking to set up in the UK.
To help further these links, the BVRLA has offered to help host a visit from our Beijing colleagues later this summer.
I am confident that we can show them a professional
industry that is providing UK businesses with a safe, cost-
efficient and increasingly green fleet of company vehicles.
But what are the chances of our guests receiving a similar welcome at one of our airports?
Or even finding their luggage, for that matter?