T hanks to The British Council, I recently had a chance to find out how China will develop its role as a major player in the automotive industry. The British Council supports and promotes the UK as the best place to be for higher education and for the best quality art and design opportunities. The Chinese government states that in the next five to ten years, over capacity could become a problem within China. Some of the joint-venture companies might claim to have under capacity, but this is unlikely. Central government also considers that the rapid economic development, clear in some regions, could lead to an unfair distribution of wealth in the near future. All of these factors must be seen against the worldwide perception of China as ' the low- cost workshop' for other industrialised nations. Scanning the back of a product for the ' Made in China' script is a familiar action for most Europeans and Americans. A new product portfolio China intends to challenge the common prejudice that products from a low- cost economy are probably of low quality in three ways: design, originality and high- quality materials. It is no longer enough to believe that taking over the tooling of discontinued Western products, with the idea of producing a ' low- cost
version' in China, is a good business model. Companies that follow this philosophy usually rely on a home market that they believe is starved of products, or they rely on a captive export market of friendly neighbours. This approach often comes from a belief that those particular customers are unsophisticated and will be happy with inferior products. This is no longer the case, particularly when it comes to the importance of good design and safety. Every family who comes in touch, however briefly, with any modern technology will quickly become aware of contemporary design standards. The mobile phone, which demonstrates every aspect of modernity including function, design, quality and new or interesting materials, is an example of a fast- growing technology that is particularly popular with young people. In the automotive world, older Western designs are based on out- of- date technology. This means that those cars, designed back in the 20th century, usually do not meet the latest crash and safety regulations Why should a Chinese customer have to drive a car that is less safe than those that are offered to car buyers in the west? Clearly, in a country as vast as China, the same products will not be appropriate for every province. Requirements and desires in big cities will not be the same as those in rural areas. But it would be wrong to think any customer is less deserving of a good design. The post- war history of the British car industry clearly shows what can happen if manufacturers " In the automotive world, older western designs are based on out- of- date technology, and don't meet crash regulations"