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China has a big presence at Geneva Motor Show

The Geneva Motor Show is normally the premier event where manufacturers target the European driver but this year the influence of China is obvious. China is a huge country with a growing desire for quality cars and UK firms have done particularly well out of this. For Jaguar Land Rover, for example, the country is their biggest single market, eclipsing the US and even their home market in Britain.

The Geneva Motor Show is normally the premier event where manufacturers target the European driver but this year the influence of China is obvious. China is a huge country with a growing desire for quality cars and UK firms have done particularly well out of this. For Jaguar Land Rover, for example, the country is their biggest single market, eclipsing the US and even their home market in Britain. Even with such huge order volumes, the Chinese market is far from saturated and there is tremendous opportunity for growth. The Chinese market does have particular demands, however, and European car makers are having to adapt to meet these challenges.

Volvo is a well known and respected European marque with a proud history but it is now owned by the Chinese company, Geely. Geely purchased the Swedish firm from Ford four years ago, where it had experienced mixed fortunes. According to Hakan Samuelsson, the Volvo chief executive, it has been a good move for the carmaker. He says: "It's made a huge difference. Number one, they offered us stability. It's never good for a company to be constantly in the newspapers, with speculation about who will buy you or whatever. Now, we have stable ownership and we are concentrating on our investment programme, building the new Volvo."

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. Geely, understandably, wants Volvo to claim a big slice of that expanding Chinese market but the expectations of Chinese consumers are very different to Volvo’s core values of safety and reliability, as Mr Samuelsson admits: "You can't just reinvent the brand in China and deliver something new; you would not be authentic. So we will deliver exactly what customers will expect from us, such as world-leading safety, world-leading environmental performance; but we will be making the brand a bit more exciting, especially for younger buyers."

What Mr Samuelsson is very delicately referring to is the Chinese love for ostentation and what Europeans might call ‘bling’. This is not Volvo’s natural territory, however, and whispers have suggested a degree of tension between the Chinese owners and Volvo management over how far they should change Volvo’s traditional design DNA to accommodate Chinese sensibilities. Wealthy Chinese owners also like to sit in the back and be driven and the absence of a big luxury saloon with rear seat attractions for such owners could be a major stumbling block.

Thankfully, UK marques appear to have no such issues. The Chinese are buying British cars in droves and they seem to like out British style just fine.

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