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html.SHUANG MIAO, China – Li Rifu packed a lot of emo-tional freight into his first car. Mr. Li, a 46-year-old farmer and watch repairman, and his wife secretly hoped a car would better the odds of their sons, then 22 and 24, find-ing girlfriends, marrying and producing grandchildren.A year and a half later, the plan seems to be work-ing. After Mr. Li purchased his Geely King Kong for the equivalent of $9,000, both sons quickly found girlfriends. His older son has already married, after a short courtship that included a lot of cruising in the family car, where the couple stole their first furtive kisses.“It’s more enclosed, more clandestine,” said Li Feng-yang, Mr. Li’s elder son, during a recent family dinner, as his bride blushed deeply.Western attention to China’s growing appetite for automobiles usually focuses on its link to mounting dependence on foreign oil, escalating demand on natural resources like iron ore, and increasing emissions of global warming gases.But millions of Chinese families, like millions of American families, do not make those connections. For them, a car is something both simpler and more compli-cated.J. D. Power and Associates calculates that four-fifths of all new cars sold in China are bought by people who have never bought a car before – not even a used car. That number has remained at that level for each of the last four years. By contrast, less than a tenth of new cars in the United States are purchased by people who have never bought a new car before, and less than 1 percent of all new cars are sold to people who have never bought a new or used care before.China’s explosive growth in first-time buyers is the driving force behind the country’s record car sales, up more than eight-fold since 2000. It is the reason China just passed Japan to become the world’s second-largest car market, behind the United States.One change in Chinese attitudes is already clear and likely to have broad implications worldwide: even first-time buyers are becoming more sophisticated and want better cars.China’s domestic carmakers like Geely and Chery, once feared by Detroit and European automakers as eventual exporters to Western markets, have watched their sales gain modestly, stagnate or drop in the last year– even while the overall Chinese market has continued to grow roughly 20 percent a year.The beneficiaries have been the joint ventures of multinationals that sell cars here that are designed over-seas, like the Buick Excelle, Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Camry. Practically every auto expert had expected the multinationals to lose market share rapidly to low-cost domestic automakers.Instead, Chinese car buyers, including first-time buyers, have become more discriminating about the comfort, styling and reliability of the cars they buy. As a result, instead of planning to conquer overseas markets, local manufacturers are having to redouble their efforts in this market.
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Class Notes, Square foot, Real estate pricing, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY