But millions of Chinese families, like millions of American families, do not make those connections. For them, a car is something both simpler and more complicated.
J. D. Power & Associates calculates that four-fifths of all new cars sold in China are bought by people who have never bought a car before — not even a used car. That number has remained at that level for each of the last four years. By contrast, less than a tenth of new cars in the United States are purchased by people who have never bought a new car before, and fewer than 1 percent of all new cars are sold to people who have never bought a new or used car before.
China’s explosive growth in first-time buyers is the driving force behind the country’s record car sales, up more than eightfold since 2000. It is the reason China just passed Japan to become the world’s second-largest car market, behind the United States.
One change in Chinese attitudes is already clear and likely to have broad implications worldwide: even first-time buyers are becoming more sophisticated and want better cars.