McLaren’s supercar range including the 12C, the 12C Spider and the P1 went on sale in China on September 9. The 12C and the Spider retail between £165,000 and £195,000 while the luxury P1 costs approximately £866,000.
James Foxall, a motoring columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, said that although western carmakers are clamoring to enter the Chinese market, foreign companies face a number of hurdles in the process. “Western carmakers can’t just pitch up and sell cars in China,” he said. “They have to go into a joint venture with a local manufacturer.”
General Motors and Ford have both used local partnerships to enable them to produce cars in China. GM operates with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) while Ford is in a three-way venture with Chinese Changan and Japanese producer Mazda.
The threat of counterfeiting is also brushed aside by the high-end Western car manufacturers.
McLaren’s Flewitt said the company was not “overly worried” by the prospect. “We are constantly investing a large amount of time, money and brainpower into R&D. That means that while a company may copy what we are producing today, by the time it is introduced and established by a competitor, we will already be focused on the next step forward.”
And the reality is that copying a car badly may be simple; doing it to the quality of an Audi or BMW is incredibly difficult. As Foxall added: “Then trying to mass produce it is even more difficult and the Chinese just haven’t got that yet.”
That’s not to say that Chinese manufacturers are not trying to emulate less sophisticated European cars — at least in terms of their design.
Paolo Beconcini, a partner and intellectual property expert at Shanghai-based Carroll, Burdick and McDonough, argues that Chinese buyers are less “demanding” than western consumers who require the latest environmentally-friendly engines and safety features.
“Cars are first of all a status symbol, the gate to the middle class.Therefore, Chinese consumers focus more on the outer design of vehicles than in their technology, safety and performance.”