SEMA News—September 2012
By Linda Spencer
Emerging Trend in China
Pickups Are the Latest Craze on the Chinese Off-Road Scene
“Pickups have been becoming popular over the past two years, mainly because they are inexpensive,” Yunliang said. “The import tax on trucks is a lot cheaper than on passenger vehicles. For example, a Raptor is about half a million yuan. If it was imported as a passenger vehicle, the market price would be about 1 million yuan. This low import tax policy greatly boosted the sales of big and powerful pickups, such as the Raptor and the Tundra.” Courtesy of Yunliang
“In our experience, the growth rate of pickups is a lot faster than that of Wranglers in 2011 and 2012,” said Zhu Yunliang, president of Yunliang.” Courtesy of Yunliang
The Jeep Wrangler is widely credited with a whole new group off-road enthusiasts creating excitement in the market and leading to increased demand for products.” Courtesy of Yunliang
SEMA News recently traveled to Beijing, China, the center of the Chinese off-road market, to talk to some key players about evolving trends. All of the sources we consulted widely credited the Jeep Wrangler as one of the most exciting and important developments in recent years in growing the off-road market, but they said that pickups are the fastest-growing segment.
Expecting a continued bright future for the Wrangler, the wholesalers and retailers we talked to cited, in particular, the heavy-duty Ford Raptor, Toyota Tundra and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ram 1500 as examples of increasingly popular pickups. They said that the pickup is the latest status symbol of the wealthy. A representative from a Shenzhen-based business named Power Controller pointed out that wealthy people buy big pickups, such as the Tundra or Raptor, to impress others, and that notion was supported by Wang Bin, the deputy general manager of Tuner Tribe.
“We noticed a fast growth of pickups in the Chinese market since last year,” Bin said. “American auto culture is becoming more and more appealing to rich Chinese. Over the past 20 years, it’s been the Chinese people’s dream to own cars. For most of the car owners, their first cars are either Japanese or German cars. So at the very beginning, when Chinese upgraded their first cars, they also used Japanese or German upgrading accessories. After many years of owning cars, we are not satisfied with what we have. All those who grow up watching Hollywood movies fall in love with the American lifestyle—especially the off-road lifestyle. I believe that is why pickups are becoming popular among some rich Chinese.”
High-line pickups don’t come cheap. When duties and taxes are added into the price, the Raptor in China starts at about 670,000 yuan ($106,350 USD) compared to $42,975 in the United States. And the vehicle is available only through gray exports, with Ford so far not choosing to export directly to China.
The Chinese sources honed in on the average age of Raptor owners in addition to their wealth. High-end pickup owners, they said, are generally 40 years old and over, and they have both the money and the time for enjoying pickups.
Many cities, including Beijing, have limits on the times when, and the roads where, pickups can be driven, but most specialty-equipment distributors we talked with didn’t believe that this was a big issue for their customers.
“Those who buy a Toyota Tundra or the Raptor buy it as an alternative vehicle, which means that it is their second or even third vehicle,” said Liang Zhilong of Off-roader Accessories Beijing. “They do not drive it to work; they only take it out on weekends for fun.”
While having access to key highways is less of a concern, the gray area under which customization operates is of greater importance. Vehicle owners worry about whether they can pass the annual inspection after they have their vehicles modified, and many enthusiasts resort to temporarily restoring the vehicles to stock condition before they are inspected or otherwise rely on connections to help them pass. Companies also fear a crackdown by the government on tuned off-road vehicles, though most believe that the government is more closely watching for modified street vehicles.
As the popularity of off-roading grows—particularly for Jeep and pickup drivers—so does the number of companies in the industry. Though the market is far from saturated, specialty wholesalers and retailers are facing competition for the first time. One company’s representatives said that they did not need to advertise at all when they started about 10 years ago but are currently spending funds in that area. Another company noted that it needed to sell two times as much product as it did in 2009 because its profit margin has shrunk from the heyday of no competition.
Beijing and Chongqing are among the most popular regions for off-roading. Beijing has the biggest base of wealthy people and “car guys,” and it also has easier access to deserts, mountains rugged roads and other fun places, according to Yang Jun of Off-roader Accessories Beijing. And Yang Xue Song of China 4WD said that Beijing is the most popular place for customizing.
“Beijing enthusiasts can go to the desert, go drifting and go to the mountains or muddy areas,” said Xue Song. “Guangdong [Shenzhen and Guangzhou] is next. Guangdong enthusiasts can go to beaches or neighboring countries with their off-roading.”
Among the top-selling aftermarket accessories are lighting, suspension, bumpers and winches. Between 150 and 200 pickup enthusiasts are currently customizing their vehicles and otherwise getting them ready for the upcoming Pickup Festival, hosted by Yunliang and media company FB Life. Zhu Yunliang, president of the company that bears his name, expects mostly Raptor and Tundra pickup owners from all over China, especially the northern regions.
SEMA annually sponsors trips to China to meet with key buyers and distributors. The 2012 event takes place this fall with travel to Shanghai and Beijing. SEMA members interested in learning more about the opportunity to sell products for pickups, SUVs and cars in China may contact Linda Spencer at lindas@SEMA.org.