In one of its infamous “strike hard” campaigns, China has outlawed suggestively dressed models at car shows. Apparently in an effort to curb the onslaught of masses that had choked past shows, there won’t be those infamous “scantily clad” women at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show. Which gave us the opportunity for a nostalgic look back at a paradise lost. After re-visiting Beijing 2010 and Shanghai 2011, after traveling to Beijing again in 2012, we will revisit the past two years today, before closing the books on the sad affair. In the end, you will agree that future shows are not worth going to, and you are right.
If you want to experience first-hand what a royal mess the Chinese car market is, go cover the Beijing or Shanghai auto show. “In chaos, there is fertility,” Anaïs Nin said. As far as cars go, no-one rivals the fertility of China. It’s a mass manufactured mess. Should you want to report about the mess, be warned: It is easier for a Mexican to get an American Green Card than for a practicing foreign journalist to be accredited to the Beijing, or Shanghai auto shows, and yet, in both cases, the sheer numbers of those present will make you believe it’s easy.
The computer systems used for on-line registration must have been acquired in a software-for-car-parts barter deal with Iran, and both got their non-existing money’s worth: Neither work. This year, there is no on-line registration, the job of dispensing press passes has been outsourced to the ever so efficient Germans. Try to get accredited, and the Shanghai Auto Show will ask you to write to Guenther Miedaner, a German working out of beautiful Munich, if you want a ticket. Don’t bother. If he writes you back at all, he will tell you that it’s not his department, and to wait for the wretched on-line registration to open up. Be patient, on-line signup will be there, eventually.
Once it does, prepare for a whole day on the computer, and loads of pulled-out hair. Carefully save all information before you enter it, you will enter it many times. Pro-tip: Even if you absolutely loathe Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, don’t use anything else to sign up. In the past years, the Made-in-Busher on-line system absolutely refused to work with Firefox, or Chrome. With IE, it worked at least some of the times. There will be an email contact for problems. Nobody will read the emails. Never ever use a Gmail address, or any mail hosted on Gmail. You won’t get a ticket if you do. Gmail is blocked in China.
In case of trouble, and there is a 200% chance of trouble, you need to call. In fluent Chinese. And you need to learn the combative scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-while-using-choice-Chinese-invectives negotiation style necessary to get anywhere in China. Forget the book about Chinese business etiquette. It’s a bootleg rip-off of the Japanese version. In China, you spit, burp, you don’t stand in line, and you scream.
They will ask you for a J-2 visa. A J-2 is a Chinese visa for visiting journalists. They don’t want journalists to visit, journalists just create trouble, they write about human rights, air pollution, and non-working on-line systems. So they have this nice Catch-22 system. In order to apply for a J-2 at a Chinese embassy, you need “an Invitation Letter of Duly Authorized Unit.” Nobody knows what a Duly Authorized Unit is. Showing that you have press tickets for the Shanghai Auto Show probably would work, but they won’t give you the ticket without the J-2.
Pro-tip: Ignore the requirement. Everything is negotiable in China. In Beijing, any visa will be accepted, once you find the place where they issue the tickets. Pro-tip: The Beijing show is at the “new venue” near the airport, but the press tickets are handed out down a dark corridor at the “old venue” across the road from the “Brain Disease Recovering Hospital.” (I am not making this up.) You will spend a few hours in line. Once it is your turn, they will tell you that you are in the wrong line. Go through an umarked door, and your ticket is yours, no J-2 needed.
In Shanghai, the passes are handed out right at the fairground in Pudong. Here, they will hassle you for the J-2, whereupon you must answer in your by now well-practiced combative scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-while-using-choice-Chinese-invectives negotiation style, and you will be handed your press pass. The picture above was taken during the negotiation process at the 2013 Shanghai Show. I wanted the lady’s card so that I could show it to her boss with whom I had a meeting the next day for which she would not issue a pass. She said she did not have a card. A picture was taken, and a pass was issued.
Trust me, I have been at both shows since 2007, and I never had a J-2. Trust me again, you don’t want a journalist visa while in China. You probably don’t want to be a journalist in China, period.
According to the official website, “more than 10,493 journalists attended Auto Shanghai” in 2013. First day was media day, and it was the first time that there was only one media day, with up to 20 press events at the same time, 30 minutes later, another set of 20, all day long, with no seats available unless you showed up at least an hour early. You need an army to occupy seats, and you need to teleport your body from event to event to properly cover the show, and even then you will only cover one in 20 events, so you won’t, and you will take pictures of the ladies instead.
On the first day of the Shanghai show “the event attracted over 150,000 visitors, with people complaining that they could see only people, not cars,” wrote the Financial Times. I can heartily endorse the statement. On the second day, it was even worse. People were lined up in long rows outside the halls. I was there with my good buddy Bernie Woodall of Reuters, one of the most tenacious, unbending, and charming journalists I have ever met. After two hours of trying to see more than people, we surrendered, and we decided to visit Shanghai’s cultural treasures.
The attentive reader may have noticed a certain disconnect between the 10,493 accredited journalists and the 150,000 visitors on media day. Good catch! Media day is also “VIP Day” and there are many VIPs in a country of 1.3 – 1.5 billion. Even 10,493 journalists is stretching it. They were probably accredited accordiomg to the non-working computer. Their tickets however went to a better cause.
Journalists are paid a little better in China than in America, i.e., maybe $300 a month, and a car show pass is a good chance to augment the earnings. A one day pass goes for around $200 on the black market. Leaving the show, you will be accosted by two kinds of men: Those who give you cards with alluring pictures of women for hire, and those who want to buy your press pass. If you can make up for your lack of morals with negotiation skills, you can trade your press pass for a Xiao Xie, a Chinese Fräulein. Don’t ask, I still have my pass.
Remember the ruckus caused in the foreign press by the depiction of floppy-eared models at Chinese car shows? This is something else to learn when in China: The domestic auto industry, self-centered and non-exporting as it is, doesn’t give a hoot about its (rotten) image(s) in the foreign press. So 2013 in Shanghai, more floppy-eared models appeared, but no pictures of same appeared in TTAC. In a despicable act of self-censorship, the ears were omitted in my 2013 report from the Shanghai Auto Show, and no precious sensitivities of TTAC readers were disturbed. Ungrateful as they are, TTAC’s publishers severed our relationship a few months later. I was replaced by an editor who would write about his carnal conquests in every second paragraph, but, as he has “precisely zero interest in Asian women and will go the rest of my life without dating one of them,” the world’s largest car market and smallest breasts would henceforth be ignored.
Coverage of the Beijing Auto Show a year later was left to me alone. You didn’t read much about it in the DailyKanban, because I was deeply frustrated. The Chinese firewall was higher and sturdier than ever. VPNs were hunted down without mercy. Digital versions of Chinese water torture were deployed: Pictures uploaded slowly to the 80 percent mark, then the upload stopped. The sexual undertones also pretty much had stopped.
Instead of the hardworking masses of pretty ladies, there was heavy police presence.
There was the new emperor of China. In 2013, Volkswagen did beat GM in China, and Martin Winterkorn enjoyed it. Representatives of the Detroit auto press (upper left) looked on perturbed.
Were there girls? There were a few.
They were all pretty much dressed.
Nissan’s Andy Palmer gave an interview in front of a car that wouldn’t come, and a few month later, Andy Palmer would announce that he would no longer come to Nissan either. I guess I will do likewise and no longer come to a Chinese Auto Show.
As you can see, the sexy models pretty much had departed, and the edict against them simply promulgates a rule that already has been observed for years. The last time a big Chinese auto show was sexy was in 2012.
A few months before the Beijing show, Frau Schmitto-san and I had congregated a few of our best friends in Beijing for a good-bye party. Zai jian China, we were off to Tokyo, where, at the Tokyo Auto Salon at least, sacred traditions of car marketing have been substantially upheld. Also, the bandwidth supplied through a 2 GBit uncensored fiber line beats China’s pants off.