City planners have had their fair share of criticism in recent years, often repeating mistakes of the past in different parts of the world. In China, the painful lessons learned following decades of urban neglect and decline in some notable towns and cities across America half-a-century ago, in part caused by rocketing car ownership, low fuel costs and unfettered growth of national highways, look likely to be ignored.
As citizens in China wholeheartedly embrace the car, the country’s planners build cities and highways which struggle to cope with the increased traffic generated. And even as the wider Chinese economy has weakened of late, the pursuit of car ownership has barely faltered.
According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, for the first 10 months of 2014, the production and sales of passenger cars reached 16,143,900 and 15,864,400 units respectively, up 11.2% and 9.8% year-on-year. In Beijing, China’s capital city, where the number of cars on the city’s roads increases by 2,000 a day and more, the average speed of vehicles during the morning commute is expected to drop to about 9mph by 2015.
But traffic problems are not just confined to China. A recent report suggests levels of car ownership are set to soar across the oil-rich Gulf States and the wider Middle East region where governments have spent billions of dollars improving road networks and other vital infrastructure links.
In the United Arab Emirates, famed around the world for its rapid urbanisation, the city skylines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have achieved iconic status in a matter of decades while the country’s universities continue to inspire the next generation of designers and builders through master of urban planning and other exciting degree courses.
Love of driving
The Nielsen report, published earlier this year and involving 30,000 respondents in 60 countries, found 65% of global online consumers intended to buy a new or used car within the next couple of years, with demand strongest in the Middle East/Africa (75%), Latin America (75%) and Asia-Pacific (72%). More than half of online consumers in North America (56%) and half in Europe (50%) said they expected to buy a new or used car in the next 24 months.
According to the survey, 84% of global respondents in the market to buy a new car said that aside from financial reasons, an emotional love of driving was the main reason for buying. Owning a car to fulfil utilitarian needs (63%) or to reflect a symbol of status (62%) were other reasons cited.
Pat Gardiner, president of Nielsen Automotive, said linking global car demand with consumer sentiments and media habits was vital for developing marketing strategies that connected the right consumers with the right car brands.
And he added, “The Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions, as expected, represent large areas of growth opportunity for the industry, but this hinges on marketers successfully identifying, understanding and effectively connecting with the needs and desires of these buyers. Online platforms, in particular, present unique opportunities to reach these new buyers.”
No doubt urban planners, particularly in China, will be taking note and adjusting future plans accordingly. Then again, if history is any judge, maybe not. Check out the full Nielsen survey results here.