Chengdu is one of those booming Chinese megacities that make most of Europe’s cities look like villages. More or less at the centre of China, the wider Chengdu zone is home to around 14 million people and is attracting massive investment from around the world.
It seems to have everything; it has become an important area for electronics and IT, logistics, finance and agriculture. The Chengdu Aircraft company builds the J10 ‘Vigorous Dragon’ and J20 Stealth military planes and Volvo - owned by Chinese company Geely - is building its first stand-alone Chinese factory in the area.
Infrastructure investment continues at break-neck speed, with a huge number of new road projects and a new Metro rail system opening last year. By 2015 there’ll be four Metro lines reaching out into the suburbs. All of which puts the UK’s attempts to ‘build its way out of recession’ into perspective.
The Chengdu Motor Show is held in the city’s giant exhibition centre. As many as two million local people were expected to attend. It certainly seemed like that last Friday. It was teeming, humid and incredibly noisy: nearly all the stands had either loud music or dancers.
Unlike a typical European show, Chengdu exhibitors - mostly domestic brands - are actually trying to sell cars to visitors. It’s quite easy to spend under £4000 on a locally-produced city car such as JAC’s Citroen C1-lookalike. Indeed, the dealers manning the stands seemed to be offering 10 per cent discounts as a matter of course. While the crash standards are unlikely to be the best, the cars seem perfectly reasonably finished and assembled.
However local sources say that these cars, while cheap to buy, are typically expensive to maintain. Super-low prices mean engineering corners are cut and regular repairs are almost inevitable. Chery’s ageing QQ model - exhibited here with mistranslated cartoon decals - is one of those super-cheap vehicles that are reputed to be expensive to run. Sales, however, continue to be relatively strong.