Driving the revised Volkswagen Phaeton has involved rather more paperwork than usual. Because we’re in China - the seaside resort of Sanya, to be precise - and driving a car here is not quite as simple as turning up at your local Hertz and flashing your licence.
We’ve had almost a month of passports, forms, couriers and correspondence between London, Wolfsburg and Beijing to make it happen - and all to get a Provisional Driving Permit that looks little more sophisticated than your local video store membership card.
Thing is, VW went to all this trouble because it wanted to show the Phaeton off in what is now by far its strongest market. One dealer in the south of China, for example, shifted 300 Phaetons last year; that’s almost triple the total sold in the UK during the same period. And the model is expected to sell around 3000 examples in China in 2010; VW reps even say they’ve taken letters of interest from the more wealthy tourists staying at the launch hotel.
Driving in China is an adventure, incidentally. I asked our own Steve Cropley for some advice before I left, and he replied, “It’s straightforward enough, mate, as long as you remember that everyone else on the road - and I mean everyone else - has just passed their test.”
He was absolutely right, too. I know it’s a big country, but you do have to wonder how the roads and infrastructure will cope with the mix of what can best be described as a relaxed attitude to on-road discipline and a market for new cars that continues to rise at an astonishing rate. Even after the colossal growth of the past few years, sales in China between January and April were up 47.2 per cent year on year.
Forget the United States; it’s this place that’s keeping big cars alive right now. And I don’t just mean the Phaeton.