Chinese built cars and bikes have a bit of a reputation as being cheap alternatives to the more established global brands - however things are beginning to change as China sets itself up to become a global powerhouse in the automotive world…
In fact, back in 2010 the country became the largest producer of automobiles in the world – a title they haven't relinquished since as they continue to expand year on year, producing some twenty million cars in 2013 alone.
It is not just Chinese brands that are being produced either. Volkswagen may have been the first globally recognized brand to establish a factory in the country in the late 1970's, but thanks to cheaper running costs, an increasing number of brands are joining them and creating their own large-scale factories. One such company is Ford who in 2012, with four factories in the country already, selected China as the location for its biggest expansion program in over fifty years, creating a brand new $760 million production line in the Hangzhou region and a $600 million expansion at its Chongquing plant.
As China's economy continues to grow and people discover previously unseen wealth, the image of small cheap cars is also being shed with the newly established 'middle-class' choosing vehicles for looks and performance rather than convenience. This is one of the reasons why the Ford Focus was the fastest selling model in 2013, closely followed by the Volkswagen Golf.
However, despite producing more cars than any other country in the world, China imposes the most stringent restrictions on the purchasing and use of cars in its major cities. For example, in Beijing you can only purchase a car if you are a national of the city and even then you will need proof of a parking space before you are allowed to buy a car. Once you've passed those criteria, you will still only be able to use the car on dates that the last digit of your registration plate is allowed to go out!
These might seem like some particularly unfair rules, but with a population of over 21 million and 6.5 million cars already on the road these rules help to prevent further congestion and, more importantly, reduce the dangerously high levels of pollution that plague the city and make it the most polluted city in the world.
Now where there is a growing automobile industry, it is only natural that there is a burgeoning motorsport scene too. So in 1997, China began a comprehensive motorsport program which saw them open their first international circuit, Zhuhai International. Since then, five further tracks have been opened, Guangdong, Shanghai F1, Shanghai Tianma, Beijing and Chengdu which has seen the motorsport industry flourish and the likes of Formula 1 and MotoGP pay visits.
However, prior to 1997 the country had very little involvement in the motorsport world which has meant it has been playing catch-up with the more established Western countries. Things are definitely changing though, an ever increasing number of fans are being attracted to the various motorsport events now being hosted and it is the off-road world that is proving by far to be the most popular.
The biggest of these events has been the Taklimakan Rally, which will enter its ninth year in 2014. With twelve days of intense racing through the vast North Western province of Xinjiang, the rally features over 60 motorcycles and 130 cars competing in the grueling race. Eager to build on this growing support for off-road sport, China's Motorsport Federation introduced another long distance Off Road event in 2013, mimicking the famous Dakar Rally. The China Grand Rally was held over sixteen days and raced across four of the country's largest Northern provinces.
Öhlins has played a big part in these off-road events through BG-Performance, who is the supplier of the ORQ off-road Damper products. The product has been so successful that it is now estimated that over 70% of all professional off-road racing cars in China use Öhlins! The BG-Performance team also provide full on-site support at the various meetings such as the Taklimakan Rally, being on hand for fifteen days and servicing over thirty cars.
It is not just the off-road scene that is experiencing a period of rapid growth, the China Touring Car Championship (CTCC) is also undergoing expansion, coupled with a surge in global popularity. The CTCC is split into two different classes, the 2,000cc – which in recent years has been dominated by the factory supported Ford Focus team and the 1,600cc class which is perhaps surprisingly the feature race. Consisting of the best drivers in China, the 1,600cc category is a battle between the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Tiiada. Öhlins will be expanding further into the CTCC over the coming season using their vast Touring Car experience.
On the two-wheel front, BG-Performance, also being the Öhlins Motorcycle Distributor in China has done a tremendous job in promoting bike sport in the country. BG is the Organiser and Promoter of many of China's regional SBK Championships in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai covering close to 90% of the territory, Hong Kong and Macau. Öhlins reflects its status on the world stage by dominating Greater China's 2 wheel Racing with approximately covering 95% of all aftermarket suspension.
From 2014 to 2015, China will open another five new Motorsport circuits with two being International Grade "A" with Multiple purposes facilities and three International "B" circuits giving China a total of 11 International level circuits.
With new races, tracks and Championships forming each year, and an increasing number of lower level races for amateur and clubman entries, the motorsport industry in China is growing at an incredible rate and Öhlins is at the very heart of it, offering its expertise and products.