China's Red Ants welcome at RV picnic
By Terril Yue Jones
BEIJING (Reuters) - Dong Xuemin can't wait for weekends when he heads out with family or friends to the mountains north of Beijing or to a lake for a picnic.
Dong is a "Red Ant" - a member of a club of urban Chinese who'll find any excuse to hit the road, not in ordinary cars, but in recreational vehicles, those quintessential Western chariots of leisure transportation used by "Snowbirds" in North America typified by white-haired retirees heading south for the winter.
"RVs have a long and glorious history in the West," says Dong, 41, who runs a logistics and storage business in Beijing where he stores his RV, boat, all-terrain vehicle and motorized surfboard. "Chinese are the same; we love the outdoors. So we're learning the American and Western RV culture."
China's RV market is still minuscule compared to North America. Chinese buyers bought an estimated 1,000 RVs last year compared to more than 250,000 sold in the United States. A lack of government regulations, campgrounds, plumbing and decent roads in many parts of the country are among the challenges stalwart road-warriors face.
Experts, however, say the RV business in China is about to take off, benefiting domestic manufacturers and foreign makers alike. The RV China Association expects sales to increase 40 percent between 2012 and 2015 to close to 4,000.
"An RV market needs people with money and time. Chinese have usually had one, but not the other," says Bill Liu, whose Santa Clara, California-based company, China Motorhome, exports American-made RVs to China.
Liu predicts RV sales in China will skyrocket to 500,000 annually in 20 years because, with China's first generation of modern entrepreneurs getting set to retire, "for the first time in Chinese history you have people with money and time."
And while most Chinese today take to the air to travel south for balmy winter vacations, in 10 years that will be very different, Liu believes. Continued...