Shanghai's Auto Show: 'Rough Around the Edges'

"It's more chaotic," auto analyst Michael Dunne told me, comparing this week's Shanghai auto show to shows in the US. "It's a little rough around the edges."

Five minutes later, I saw what he meant. Walking out the show's exit, I was mobbed by a group of men who were shouting prices at me, making me wonder if I had just stepped into an auction...as the item to be auctioned.

"I'll give you forty!" "Fifty! Fifty!" "No, fifty-five!" The men were offering money for my credentialed media badge. Note to the media relations department at the auto show: I did not sell it. But there were some other items for sale that folks in the auto industry might want to know about.

Walking back to the subway station from the exhibition hall, I came across two men selling DVDs; a common sight in Shanghai, where pirated DVD vendors are as ubiquitous as noodle shops. But these DVDs were different. They carried the Chinese names of both US and Chinese auto manufacturers on them, in plain black font on a white background. "What are on these disks?" I asked one of the men.

"All the email addresses and cellphone numbers of every person at every automaker at this show," he calmly replied.

Beside his case of DVDs, neatly arranged on a blanket on the ground, were the paper versions. I paged through one of them. There were thousands of numbers, addresses, and names from not only auto manufacturers but parts makers, parts suppliers, nearly everyone who was currently inside the enormous convention hall across the street...all for the equivalent of three US dollars.

A warm Spring breeze kicked up, blowing the pages of the thick pamphlets open, causing the big yellow balloons over the auto show to sway to and fro. Below the shifting balloons in the convention center stood tens of thousands of men, ogling bikini-clad women stretched out on concept cars. Nearby, bags of discarded McDonald's french fries boxes from the day's lunch hour were being picked apart by pigeons.

"It may lack some of the refined touches of the auto shows in the US," said industry expert Dunne, "but there's an excitement in the air here that is missing at those other shows."

An auto show with Chinese characteristics.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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