SHANGHAI, China - The Shanghai auto show, the premier auto showcase in China, was notable this year for its no-shows.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Rover, Renault, Peugeot, Nissan, Mazda, Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia were among the absentees.
Their non-appearance may signal a change in the industry's attitude.
'Companies are much more realistic and sober about China these days,' said Michael Dunne, president of Automotive Resources Asia Ltd., a consulting firm based in Bangkok, Thailand.
Chinese officials project car sales of 1.2 million units in 2000 and 4.0 million in 2010. Those forecasts look doubtful today. Last year's sales were just over 377,000, according to London-based DRI/McGraw-Hill.
The country has little financing, a poor infrastructure, and slow underlying economic growth. Car ownership in most developing countries has taken off only when per-capita income has reached $3,000. China's is $680. It is forecast to rise to $800 by 2000 and $1,500 by 2010.
Negotiations in China can be slippery. Mercedes has almost given up on its China plans. Peugeot is trying to sell its part of a factory there.
Audi is persevering.
Audi wants to make the new A6 at the VW-First Auto Works factory in Changchun where it now builds the Audi 100.
'Both parties want to do it; the only real issue is government approval,' said a Changchun-based executive.
Standing beside the A6 on display at the Shanghai show, Axel Engel, a spokesman for Audi Product and Technology International, said Audi was in constant negotiations with First Auto Works. He warned not to expect anything soon.
The Changchun executive said negotiations are slow, and 'it will take about 35 months from contract signing to start of production.'
Meanwhile, Audi 100 sales are slow. One reason is that partner First Auto Works sells a cheaper copy of the Audi 100, badged as the Little Red Flag, powered by a Chrysler engine.