Jan 062011
Chinese cars that drive on Water
Image by Ivan Walsh via Flickr

Can China–and the World–Afford 2 Billion Cars?

China could have one billion cars by mid-century–but what kind of vehicles will they be?

SHENYANG—Rows of new white minibuses marshal at the entrance to Brilliance Auto‘s sprawling complex on the outskirts of this industrial city of 4.2 million people in northeastern China. The complex includes assembly shops, dormitories and corporate headquarters, in addition to temporary parking for the company’s products. In one cavernous, dimly lit shop, workers in tan overalls with blue highlights repeat over and over the same basic assembly task as a conveyor belt slowly but steadily carries the skeletons of future minibuses from station to station at the pace of the slowest worker. The air is filled with brief blasts of whirring power tools and the smell of ozone and rubber. Everywhere is the logo of Brilliance, a blocky knock-off of the oval symbol of the world’s largest automaker Toyota.

The logo is perhaps an homage to the mammoth company whose partnership with Brilliance has helped it to shine, along with additional help from BMW. The Chinese state-owned enterprise now sells some80,000 “JinBei” and “Granse” minibuses a year—after assimilating Toyota’s “Hiace” and “Granvia” minibus models during a previous joint venture, or what the Chinese call technology “digestion.”

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