The lure of American culture is growing in China, as an expanding middle class enjoys rising incomes. Among the American-style pastimes taking off in recent years is RVing, according to a recent article in Automotive News.
Xiao Yang and his wife, Duan Xu, have been bitten by the RVing bug. They’re fond of traveling to China’s remote locations, but are turned off by tour groups and don’t like staying in hotels. “That’s just like staying at home,” said the 45-year-old Xiao, who owns a private trading company.
Their solution is to rent a recreational vehicle for their trips to such places as the desert of Inner Mongolia from the Beijing CenTech RVing Club Co.
CenTech began building RVs in 1997 in a rented Beijing facility. Five years later the company had its own plant in nearby Tianjin.
This year, the plant will make some 2,000 specialty vehicles, including about 600 RVs plus an assortment of armored cars, stretch limos, vans and trailers. Wang expects his RV output will double in 2005.
Before CenTech came on the scene, China had a few small RV builders, but their sales languished. Wang recognized the need for creative marketing, so he started an RV club. “Most Chinese still would like to travel in a group,” said Wang. “That’s why we created the club.”
The club organizes group trips, such as the 15-day “Silk Road Tour,” in which five RVs drove 3,100 miles together. The club’s website includes stories of RV trips and favorite routes, and the club publishes a magazine promoting RVing.
CenTech is also building a nationwide network of RV parks. So far, 50 campgrounds include basic water and electricity hookups, while half a dozen more have canteens, water sports and other activities. Three “mobile hotels” offer trailers already equipped with water, power and cable TV.
Franchisees handle about two-thirds of CenTech’s sales, and the network is growing rapidly. The company had 10 franchisees as the third quarter began, and Wang hopes to have 30 by year’s end. CenTech operates a toll-free customer-feedback number to ensure the quality of service at the franchises.
An RV rents for about 1,500 yuan a day, or roughly $180, which is within reach of the country’s growing middle class. Liu said the cost is comparable to that of a nice hotel if one includes meals.
Wang hosts marketing events and invites local journalists to help publicize the business. “A few days ago I had a product demonstration and sold more than 50 vehicles,” he said.
The company’s original customer base was primarily young people working for foreign-connected companies, or those who had lived overseas, according to Zhou Wenyuan, who manages CenTech’s Beijing branch. Now he sees that customer base expanding to include families and retired people.
Growth in private car ownership should continue to boost the RV business in China, Zhou said, noting, “The first step is they know about cars.”