Ted Conover in the New York Times Magazine:
The figures behind China’s car boom are stunning. Total miles of highway in the country: at least 23,000, more than double what existed in 2001, and second now only to the United States. Number of passenger cars on the road: about 6 million in 2000 and about 20 million today. Car sales are up 54 percent in the first three months of 2006, compared with the same period a year ago; every day, 1,000 new cars (and 500 used ones) are sold in Beijing. The astronomic growth of China’s car-manufacturing industry will soon hit home for Americans and Europeans as dirt-cheap Chinese automobiles start showing up for sale here over the next two or three years. (Think basic passenger car for $10,000, luxury S.U.V. for $19,000.)
But of course the story is not only about construction and production; car culture is taking root in China, and in many ways it looks like ours. City drivers, stuck in ever-growing jams, listen to traffic radio. They buy auto magazines with titles like The King of Cars, AutoStyle, China Auto Pictorial, Friends of Cars, Whaam (“The Car — The Street — The Travel — The Racing”). Two dozen titles now compete for space in kiosks. The McDonald’s Corporation said last month that it expects half of its new outlets in China to be drive-throughs. Whole zones of major cities, like the Asian Games Village area in Beijing, have been given over to car lots and showrooms.