openroad.jpgChina's
car boom is already having an impact well beyond the bottom-lines of
the carmakers who this week are gathered at the Beijing Motor Show.

Levels of car ownership in China are still low at less than 2% of
the population, but the market is growing at 25% a year, so if you
think Shanghai's roads are crowded today, you ain't seen anything yet.

The Financial Times notes how the car is reshaping Chinese cities ($)
and people's lives. The centres of many Chinese cities are still
densely populated and cramped by bicycles and cars vying for space. But
Beijing and Shanghai now have vast suburban areas filled with gated
complexes of high-rise flats that look down on wide highways.

Even though both cities are planning extensive metro networks, a car is becoming a necessity, the FT argues.

Just over a decade ago, owning a private car was still frowned upon
in China, but the launch of McDonald's drive-thrus is the latest phase
in the rapid spread of US-style car culture — EngagingChina wrote about this topic earlier this year in this story.

Not all foreign retailers are convinced that China will ape the US
culture of out-of-town shopping and drive-thru restaurants. Carrefour
and Wal-Mart say it is essential to find store locations near to public
transport because few shoppers are willing or able to drive.

Indeed, the FT notes that outside of the main cities of China's
eastern seaboard, most new highways are often empty. Those wide, open
roads beloved of ad agencies can still be found. But perhaps not for
very long.

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