For most of the 20th century, the world's automotive landscape was dominated by one country: the United States of America.
That's quickly changing, though, as the Chinese consumer rises to prominence. In 2009, for the first time in history, car sales in China eclipsed those of the United States. Even General Motors, the maker of
all-American, apple-pie cars and trucks, sold more vehicles in China than it did in the U.S. last year.
It makes sense, then, that with 1.3 billion people and a ballooning economy, automakers around the globe are pinning their growth plans on satisfying the Chinese market.
They're opening up new factories, revising their car designs and coming up with new models to lure Chinese buyers into showrooms.
It's also clear that the Chinese car market is going to impact us Americans, too. More of our vehicles are going to be influenced by Chinese tastes.
While it's hard to predict what's going to happen to cars even in the most stable of times — much less today's time of shaky economies, shifting paradigms and Middle Eastern dictatorships crumbling — there
are a few trends in Chinese cars that are already changing how we Americans are driving.
Here's a look at four of them:
ROOMY BACK SEATS
One of the biggest trends in China is the concept of a chauffeur-driven limousine. Successful Chinese businesspeople want cars with spacious back seats that offer plenty of leg room, and the manufacturers are happy to oblige.
In particular, luxury brands are offering more long-wheelbase versions of their flagship cars. Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW all offer extended-length models designed around the executives who are being
driven, not necessarily driving.
If this trend continues, cars will become less about the cockpit up front and more about the comfortable cocoon in back.