Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Chinese Luxury Sedans -  Red is the New Black

The Hongqi H7. Sorry, maybe it’s the Hyundai Equus. Or the Mercedes S-Class.

Here’s the Hyundai Equus. Then again, it could be the Merc. Or the H7.

Now this is definitely the Merc. I think.

The People’s Liberation Army, with Xi Jinping as its head, has officially mandated that all military folks must ditch their foreign rides (think mainly VW, Audi) in favor of locally made vehicles. Leading the pack of wannabe manufacturers is Hongqi and its top-end H7 luxury sedan. Hongqi translates as “red flag”. There are no prizes given for guessing that the brand has long been affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, all the way back to Mao Zedong. Cadres are reportedly fretting that their choice of transport is being dictated to them from on high. They should at least take solace in that they can choose whichever color they’d like, so long as it’s black.
This seemingly draconian order begs a question – just who do the PLA leaders think they are, Korean??  Anyone who has spent much time in chaebol-dominated Korea until the mid-2000s (when automobile import quotas were relaxed) is familiar with the Hyundai Equus, the Mercedes S-class look-alike that was the standard-issue luxury sedan for senior business executives. What the Equus lacked in originality and sex-appeal, it made up in social status. Being driven around by a company-hired chauffeur in an Equus told Korean society that you were a person to be reckoned with in the corporate world, a His Royal Stodginess on High. Many a country club parking lot was blackened with vast fleets of Equus and their chain-smoking drivers loitering about waiting for their bosses. Of course, the uniformity was not entirely the fault of the individuals. Hyundai’s held close to a 90% domestic market share and lobbied successfully for many years to keep foreign brands off the roads. As a result, executives were starved for choice, if not much else.
China has taken a different road, having already allowed foreign cars onto their streets. Forcing people to give up their European blingmobiles in favor of copycats like the H7 will not be an easy task. However, it’s unclear whether, other than for that small but highly coveted hunk of metal mounted on the front of the hood, many observers will be able to tell the difference.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Feast Your Eyes on that Price Tag

(CNN) -- An oil painting by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi has sold for $23.3 million at an auction in Hong Kong - a record price for Asian contemporary art. 

The 4-meter wide painting was sold to a private collector, who wanted to remain anonymous, after 15 minutes of tense telephone bidding at an evening auction held by auction giant Sotheby's on Saturday. Bidding started at $9 million. 

The 2001 work is a recreation of "The Last Supper" by Italian master Leonardo Da Vinci, which depicts the last meal between Jesus and the 12 disciples when Jesus foretold his betrayal by Judas.

In Zeng's work, the religious figures have been replaced by young communists with red neckties. The figure replacing Judas wears a western-style yellow tie - symbolizing China's move toward capitalism, said Evelyn Lin, Sotheby's head of contemporary Asian art. 

"The painting represents a transformative period in Chinese society," she said. Lin said the sale showed the market for Chinese art, which slowed significantly in 2012, was "very healthy." 

The previous record for a work by an Asian contemporary artist was a sculpture by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami that sold for $15 million in New York in 2008. 

The painting was sold by Swiss collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten. They bought the work from a Beijing gallery in 2002.


Thursday, April 4, 2013
China's Yacht Market  Wind in its Sails?

Parasol not included

As discussed in this Jing Daily article, wealthy Mainland Chinese have been less keen on splashing out for luxury yachts than for almost every other segment (e.g. property, cars, wine, jets, jewelry) of the high-end consumption market. The reasons cited are many:
  • Lack of high end marina infrastructure that is close to high end hotels and shops and removed from drab-looking fishing vessels
  • Tough government regulations regarding maritime activities that are not military or commercial in nature
  • Shortage of chefs and captains
  • Aversion to spending much time in the sun, especially by the ladies who loath any skin tone darker than Mikimoto pearls
  • Location of much new wealth in the Northeast or landlocked inland areas such as Shanxi province that have climates more suited to ice sculpturing
Optimists say there is plenty of room for future growth, citing China’s yacht ownership ratio among the wealthy of 318:1, as compared to Hong Kong’s 25:1. However, almost everyone recognizes that the China market is fundamentally different from that of a former British colony located on a subtropical island with a mercantile-minded population. As big as the catch might one day be, the long wait for winds to fill sails may have vendors in China tied in knots for years to come.

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Looking for Mr. Bling

This Reuters video highlights a key reason why China’s luxury market is so large and robust. Call it the male ‘bling’ factor. Basically, it is the combined consequence of Asia’s “face” culture and the still-emerging nature of China’s economic development that men show off their rising success through apparel and accessories. Typically, as new money transitions into old, stuffing closets full of luxury goods becomes less important and gives way to focusing on estate preservation, managing real assets and pursuing more diverse lifestyles. But for now, bring on the bling.

Friday, April 27, 2012
Floating Asia’s Boats

A luxury yacht is berthed at the One Degree 15 Marina Club at Sentosa Cove in Singapore April 25, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong
A luxury yacht is berthed at the One Degree 15 Marina at Sentosa Cove in Singapore April 25, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong

This week combines the Asia Pacific Superyacht Conference and the Singapore Yacht Show, both being held in Singapore. The Conference is a “East meets West” forum to discuss ways of exploiting the potential for the vast and promising Asia region. Issues to be aired and discussed include tailoring boat design to meet Asian tastes, building badly needed marina infrastructure to support these behemoths of pleasure cruising, and marketing to a diverse group of ethnicities. One interesting difference between Asian yacht owners versus their Western counterparts is the Asian preference to spend time below deck rather on it. In addition to a greater love of karaoke and other lounging entertainments, Asians (especially women) have an aversion to spending time in the sun, since darker skin is associated with laborers and farmers, rather than outdoor leisure activities.

This year is only Singapore’s second edition of the yacht show. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this will not be the last. The vision of the future is only of rising tides, smooth seas, and titanic-sized displays of luxury.

 Previous Posts 
 Sunday, March 29, 2012
$1,700 per Facial Expression - What a Gal!

Okay, so why have I posted a picture of two lovely young Asian ladies under "Toys"? Have I gone 19th-century? Do I deserve to be flogged with a nail-spiked bra dipped in gasoline? Before you toss me into a Misogynists Therapy Class for the next twenty Sunday afternoons, consider this - the woman on the left is indeed a toy! She is a Geminoid F, designed and manufactured by a Japanese professor. And you can buy her or one of her 11 cyborg syblings at a Hong Kong mall, each model for US$110,000. Is that too much to pay for the world's most advanced female robot? Especially given that she can make 65 expressions and interact by "talking and singing"? 

A dozen frat-boy jokes come to mind. I will reluctantly sidestep making any of them, unless you want to meet me on Friday evening after I've had a few glasses of wine. In the meantime, let me just say that I think that $1,700 per facial tick seems like a lot of money to me. So before I risk the wrath of my wife by bringing home a new member of the family, I'll wait for the good professor to release an Expansion Pack.

Monday, March 30, 2012
Rolls-Royce is Rolls-Royce, even in Down Markets

“Better than any Barbie doll.”
As discussed in the attached link, mainland China car dealers for BMW, Audi and Daimler (Mercedes) are offering discounts to keep sales up.  The discounts range from up to 20-25% for the higher end models. There are also free iPhones and Hermes bag coupons on offer. With China’s slowing economic growth, it seems that the 1% are not feeling quite so confident these days about their financial prospects.

However, when it comes to luxury car buyers, the cautionary bias does not apply to the 0.001%. Rolls Royce continues on, well, a roll. As reported in the South China Morning Post, RR’s sales director is quoted as saying, “We are in a different segment. There is always a strong demand for super luxury goods.” China has already surpassed the US as RR’s biggest market, and the car maker is expecting double digit growth this year, without discounts or the need to give away other toys. If RR’s management (the marque is owned by BMW, by the way) has any reservations about future growth, it is over-reliance on China as their main market.  So they are expanding in other emerging markets, including Turkey, Vietnam and South Africa. Rolls-Royces on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City?  Hmmm.  That’s an altogether different kind of tank!

Sunday, March 1, 2012
Recession-Buster Car Deals – Hong Kong style
Here are this week’s “Deals of the Week” cars in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper.

They range from the bargain-basement Audi S3 (in a modest tangerine orange hue) for US$34 K to a choice of four Bentley sedans priced at a more wallet-lightening average of US$245 K.  At these prices, who among Asia’s 1% could refuse?  I understand that the Bentley’s come fully equipped with indentured-servant drivers, each of whom answer to the name of “Broker”.
Aston Martins2 $  170,951
Bentley's4     244,698
Ferrari's4     112,082
Porsches2     100,129
Mercedes Benz1       29,306
Audi1       34,447
Lexus1       64,010