Geely set to unveil mid-tier brand

China Daily, October 15, 2016

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A Geely Auto’s SUV model Emgrand GS is presented at the Auto China 2016 show in Beijing.
[Photo/ REUTERS]

Chinese billionaire Li Shufu will test whether there’s room for another global car brand by introducing a new marque next week, built on technology jointly developed by his two car companies, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd and Volvo Cars.

The new brand, called Lynk & Co, will be unveiled on Oct 20 in Berlin and share its underpinnings with Volvo Cars models. Sales are slated to start in the second half of next year, with the first model likely being a sport utility vehicle, according to Geely Auto Chief Executive Officer Gui Shengyue, declining to provide more details ahead of the official announcement.

“The new brand carries great importance for Geely’s development,” Gui said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “We are currently competing against other local car brands, as well as high-end brands with Volvo Cars.” Lynk & Co will help Geely fight against other mass-market foreign brands, he said.

The new mid-tier brand comes about two years after Li killed three sub-brands and unified its models under the Geely nameplate. The new marque, to be produced in China but distributed globally, will allow Geely to compete in the lower end of the market while freeing Volvo Cars to focus on the premium end.

Even so, any new brand would have to fight for consumer acceptance in a market crowded with more than 100 passenger-vehicle nameplates. Geely’s Lynk & Co will join newcomers such as Borgward Group AG, a defunct German brand revived by Chinese State-owned BAIC Group, and a host of electric vehicle startups in trying to carve out a niche.

Geely has some advantages because the new brand would have access to a platform and technology from Volvo, and it may have better insight as a Chinese company in how to tap growth in faster-growing smaller cities, said Bill Russo, managing director of Gao Feng Advisory Co.

“The market is not asking for yet another brand, unless it brings a clear and unique proposition,” Russo said. “I assume Geely has learned a lot from its previous failed multi-brand strategy which they’re unlikely to repeat.”

Li purchased Volvo Cars from Ford Motor Co in 2010 for $1.5 billion and has rejuvenated the Swedish automaker with an $11 billion modernization and investment program. The company unveiled the XC90 in 2014, the first model wholly developed under Geely’s ownership, followed by the revamped S90 luxury sedan.

Bloomberg

Click here to read the article at China Daily

Disrupting the Disruptors: The Merger Of Uber China And Didi Chuxing

Forbes, August 8, 2016

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I co-authored this article with my colleague Edward Tse, CEO of Gao Feng Advisory Company

On August 1st, Didi Chuxing (Didi)and Uber China announced a plan to merge their businesses in China, effectively placing Didi in control of their combined ride-hailing business for the China market.  This deal has attracted a great deal of attention since the announcement, raising a number of critical questions which we address in this article, including:

  • Did the China government play any role in the merger?
  • Can foreign tech companies compete in China?
  • Did Uber China win or lose?
  • Could Uber China ever have become a dominant player in China if it decided to press ahead?
  • What will this deal mean to Uber and Didi’s global strategies?

China has become the epicenter of a disruptive wave of digital innovation, and the rapidly evolving landscape of partnerships for mobility services is a clear indication of this.  For sure, we can look forward to even more exciting developments in the future.

Click here to read the article at Forbes.com

This car company ripped off Land Rover. Here’s why it might get away with it.

The Washington Post, July 19, 2016

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(LEFT) The 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible is debuted during the
Los Angeles Auto Show in Nov. 2015, in Los Angeles (AP Photo/John Locher).
(RIGHT) Jiangling Motor Co.’s Landwind X7 SUV is displayed at the
16th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in April 2015
(Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg).

The cars are basically indistinguishable unless you hone in on the exact stitching of the seats or the fine arrangement of the headlights. Even then, changes are so minuscule, it’s nearly impossible to realize one of these vehicles costs $41,000, and the other just $21,700.

British luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover and Chinese carmaker Jiangling will go to court this summer in China to settle their dispute over what exactly is fair game in the auto industry. Can Chinese companies continue to get away with “shanzhai” — a Chinese term for prideful counterfeiting — of car designs?

Range Rover’s Evoque and Jiangling’s Landwind X7 are practically the same car to the untrained eye.

It’s a judicial battle that pits Western car companies against the burgeoning Chinese and East Asian market, and one that has captured the attention of economists, auto industry insiders and intellectual property experts.

The Chinese consumer market has grown exponentially since late 1980s economic reform. Some of the largest growth has come from auto companies, both state-owned and foreign joint-ventures. In 2008, when the market was still in its relative infancy, Chinese buyers purchased 9.4 million cars. By 2015, they bought 24.6 million.

And as the industry rapidly expands, Western carmakers, from the United States’ “big three” to German luxury brands to other imports, have rushed to gobble up market share, in the process flooding China and its comparably fledgling car companies with new vehicle models.

The best way Chinese manufacturers could compete was “shanzhai,” reverse engineering foreign products as a way to enter the market without overwhelming research expenditures.

“In the automotive industry, you can copy the look of the the vehicle, but the skills required for the highly complex integrated systems, if you’re a Chinese company, you don’t have engineers with long career histories with that capability,” said Bill Russo, managing director of Shanghai-based Gao Feng Advisory Company.

“So you shorten the life cycle by purchasing or licensing or reverse engineering. And this is not a Chinese-invented cycle.”

Imitation, as the idiom goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s also a great way to make money, something merchants have realized for hundreds of years.

The United States in the 1800s, for example, lacked authors who could stack up against British literary giants, so American publishers reprinted British works without paying heed to copyright laws, said Mark Bartholomew, a professor of law at the University at Buffalo.

Benjamin Franklin, the Benjamin Franklin, even published pirated works. William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens came to America to complain about it. The United States only stiffened its intellectual property laws once its industries, both mechanical and intellectual, matured by the end of the century.

“It boils down to economics,” Bartholomew said. “The Chinese economy doesn’t have this same tradition of the manufacturers like Ford or Hyundai or any of the folks who are making these cars. So if you don’t have these copyright laws, why pay if you can get away with it?”

China does have intellectual property laws, though, and it’s a signatory to international intellectual property agreements. But China’s laws are applied inconsistently, and even the international rules aren’t always enforced in China and elsewhere around the world.

Some countries recognize certain kind of intellectual property, but not others. For example, special door handles on a car: Are those a decorative creative works, or do they have some functionality? Creative works get copyrights. Objects with usefulness get patents. And states, not companies, are the arbiters of what objects get what protection.

It leaves multinational companies rushing to strategically secure their rights all over the world. In large established markets like the United States and Europe, car companies apply for protection right away. But in a developing market such as China — its auto market was until recently considered “developing” — those applications only became priorities over the last decade.

Smaller Chinese companies without strong market presence used past administrative delays as windows of opportunity. If intellectual property protection hadn’t been filed domestically, it was convenient to reverse engineer the product. And if the protection was filed sloppily, companies reverse engineered cars largely without the risk of prosecution.

Even when U.S. auto makers file their paperwork in the right way, China car companies enjoy remarkable home field advantage in their courts. More mature courts in Beijing or Shanghai might have judges more willing to hear out foreign companies, but rural courts or those in factory-heavy districts often show interest to local industry, including counterfeiters.

And so the copycats started coming. Honda fought a Chinese carmaker for 12 years for copying the CR-V. The Chery QQ riffed off the Chevrolet Spark in 2005. Shuanghuan’s CEO SUV model copied BMW’s X5 in 2007. Shuanghuan’s Noble copied Mercedes Benz’s Smartcar in 2009. The Lifan 320 copied the Mini Cooper Countryman in 2012.

Hummers and Porsches and Rolls Royces have been copied. Even Ferraris have been copied, and were shipped to Spain where they were seized by police.

“Anything known to mankind can be faked, even a Ferrari,” said said Frederick Mostert, past president of the International Trademark Association and a research fellow at University of Oxford and Peking University. To prove a point, he bought one and traveled with it and shows pictures of it at speaking engagements.

Ferraris, though, aren’t the counterfeits major car companies worry about. Any buyer looking for a luxury car is in the market to spend luxury car kind of money. That’s especially true in China, where consumers are extremely brand conscious, experts say. Nobody who wants a Land Rover is going to be fooled by a Landwind.

“People who buy [the Landwind] can’t afford the Land Rover,” said Russo, the Geo Feng consultant. “And of course if you’re the company that’s out there, you’re going to be pissed off about it, but nobody is getting confused.

“Get in that Landwind and drive it. I’ve driven many, many cars in China. It’s not the same car.”

As much as the counterfeits are inconveniences, it may be the lawsuits to stop the practice that may hurt Western automakers moreauto industry experts say. The Chinese public doesn’t like to see its industries get bullied. Plus, if one copycat company gets shut down, others pop back up. Western companies end up playing legal whack-a-mole with money they could use to make newer, better cars, said Kenneth D. Crews, a Los Angeles-based attorney and adjunct professor of law at Columbia University.

That kind of strategy actually trains customers to look for newer models and not settle on older ones that are more easily counterfeited. More mature Chinese car companies have grown up and away from copying other models. Once they made enough money to invest in research and original design, they did.

“These companies have grown to become more than just copycats,” Russo said. “They’re advanced and they’re innovative.”

Click here to read this article at washingtonpost.com

Tencent-Backed Company Aims to Launch Smart-Electric Cars Before 2020

 The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2016

Tencent-Backed Company Aims to Launch Smart-Electric Cars Before 2020 - WSJ Safari, Today at 1.01.49 PM

A BMW electric car at a Beijing car show in April; Future Mobility has hired about 50 engineers from car makers including BMW for its smart-electric-vehicle project. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese auto startup Future Mobility seeks eventually to sell several hundred thousand luxury vehicles a year

BEIJING—An auto startup backed by internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. plans to start selling premium electric cars globally by 2020, joining other Chinese car makers in taking aim at an increasingly crowded luxury market.

Four month-old Future Mobility Corp. seeks eventually to sell several hundred thousand fully electric, highly automated, China-built vehicles a year. The company is also backed by Chinese luxury-car dealer Harmony New Energy Auto and Foxconn Technology Group, which assembles iPhones for Apple Inc. Apple has been working on its own autonomous electric car.

Deep-pocketed tech companies have backed a wave of new auto companies in China, where a drive to cut fuel consumption and pioneer the auto industry of the future has encouraged startups. Analysts, citing increasing competition and uncertainty over a subsidy-fueled boom in electric vehicles, question how such ambitions can be turned into reality.

“Our target is to create the first Chinese brand which is premium and internationally successful,” Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of Future Mobility, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Tuesday. He said the company aims to sell cars in China, Europe and the U.S. and to compete with Audi AGBMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, which combine for three quarters of China’s luxury-car market.

The company will soon complete its first round of fundraising, Mr. Breitfeld said.

Last year China’s industrial regulator amended rules to allow nonautomotive companies to invest in the electric-car industry, which Beijing has subsidized to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

Internet giants jumped right in. China’s annual motor show in April showcased smart vehicles powered by software from online-shopping company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and search provider Baidu Inc. Last month, a Baidu executive said that the company plans to mass produce a driverless car within five years.

Tencent, China’s biggest social-network company, has a research team working on technology that can be used in automated cars, according to a person familiar with the matter. For now, its involvement in Future Mobility—beyond its minority stake as a financial investor—is limited, the person said.

Tencent is an investor in another electric-car maker, NextEV Inc., whose other backers include Sequoia Capital.

The companies are poaching talented engineers from global auto and technology giants, and setting up research centers in the West. Future Mobility has hired 50 engineers from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Google.com. Within 12 months it will have about 600 engineers globally, said Mr. Breitfeld, formerly the project manager for BMW’s i8 plug-in sports car.

He said the company will either build its own plant or partner with an existing auto maker to assemble cars. It has research and development units in Munich and Silicon Valley and is building its headquarters in Shenzhen, where Tencent is based.

Some analysts question how quickly such a new company can achieve its aims. “Several hundred thousand premium cars from an unknown brand sounds like a stretch,” said Bill Russo, managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Co. and former head of Chrysler’s North East Asia business. “Building a brand and competing with the likes of the premium car makers is very difficult. And the competition will not stand still.”

Robin Zhu, a senior analyst at U.S. research company Sanford C. Bernstein, noted that demand for electric vehicles in China is minimal except in big cities where they’re exempt from certain restrictions that apply to their gasoline-fueled counterparts.

The number of electric and hybrid cars and buses sold in 2015 was four times that of a year earlier—but at 331,000 vehicles was a small, subsidy-driven tally in a market where total sales exceeded 24 million.

Alibaba, SAIC Motor launch internet car Roewe RX5, SUV with YunOS operating system

CNBC, July 6, 2016

BillCNBC

Click here to watch the video

Two of China’s biggest household brands have teamed up to create what they call “the world’s first mass-produced car on the internet.”

E-commerce giant Alibaba and SAIC Motor, the country’s biggest car manufacturer, will launch the Roewe RX5 on Wednesday, a sports utility vehicle (SUV) featuring smart technology from Alibaba’s operating system YunOS. First unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show in April this year, the RX5 is reportedly YunOS’ first auto partnership.

YunOS was created in 2011 and is used by several prominent Chinese smartphones brands, including Meizu and Duowei.

In April, Alibaba said YunOS was the third-biggest operating system (OS) in the world with 40 million users as of 2015, adding that it would soon replace Apple’s iOS as the second biggest in the mainland, according to local media reports at the time. Google’s Android remains China’s most popular OS.

Connectivity, electric power and autonomous driving were the three principal themes for the auto market as it increasingly merged with the internet industry, Bill Russo, managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Company, told CNBC’s “The Rundown“.

The RX5 is a clear example of how car makers are employing big data to improve driver’s daily needs and mobility habits.

SAIC and Alibaba have promised that the car’s data capabilities would transform stressful driver experiences, such as negotiating traffic or undertaking maintenance, into enjoyable moments.

“The RX5 will be able suggest alternate routes in the case of road closures or traffic as well as a more personalized experience in the car,” Russo said.

Already the world’s largest car market, China is set to become a key adopter of these trends, but there’s already heavy competition to win the hearts of mainland consumers.

Apple’s recent $1 billion investment into ride-hailing app Didi Chuxingled many to question whether the two companies would produce an internet-based vehicle, while South Korea’s Kia Motors has partnered with Google to tap the latter’s Android Auto operating system. Meanwhile, Chinese online video firm LeEco has developed a self-driving concept car, called the LeSEE.

In fact, the real rivalry in the car market was no longer between car makers, Russo said.

“It’s a battle for the connected-car operating system,” he said, pointing to YunOS, iOS and Android Auto as examples.

When it came to China, Alibaba and SAIC’s biggest competitor was Apple, he added.

Apple’s investment in Didi was a strategic move to position a potential Apple car in China, Russo continued, noting that while Google had invested in Uber, it was not a threat because the search engine remains blocked in the mainland.

—Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.

CORRECTION:

This report has been updated to reflect that YunOS is an operating system, while Aliyun is a cloud computing system.

Click here to read the story at CNBC.com

Bill Russo to Deliver Keynote Speech at Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Conference

Novi, Michigan, September 13-15, 2016

TBS&EVT 2016 overview.pdf (page 1 of 3) Preview, Today at 3.32.03 PM

Bill Russo will be a keynote speaker at the plenary session of the Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo (Day 1, Track 1) on September 13 in Novi, MI on the topic China Drives the Future of Personal Mobility.

 

China’s Path to Electrification vDraft6 Microsoft PowerPoint, Today at 3.38.27 PM

Topic Outline: 

  • China has emerged as the world’s largest automotive market since 2009 and remains the growth engine of the global automotive industry.
  • The world has entered a new era since 2008, with over half of the world population now living in cities, and this increasingly urbanized world challenges the established set of paradigms for personal and commercial transportation, especially in the densely populated urban centers in China.
  • The unique context of China’s urban transportation challenge, the high rate of adoption of mobile device connectivity, combined with the rapid and aggressive introduction of alternative mobility and ownership concepts will compress the time needed to commercialize new and innovative solutions and business models for personal urban  mobility
  • Shaped by several forces, China is already the largest EV market in the world and will continue to grow exponentially.  Several scenarios will be described that are shaping the market dynamicsgovernment policies, and competitive landscape.

Click here to view the conference flyer:  TBS&EVT 2016 overview

Click here to view the Day 1, Track 1 Agenda

Autoline: “Analyzing the Chinese Auto Market”

Autoline TV

Internet Premiere:  Thursday, 6/23 @ 4:00pm ET
Detroit Public TV air date:  Sunday, 6/26 @ 10:30am ET

Michael J. Dunne of Dunne Automotive, James Chao of IHS Automotive Asia-Pacific & Bill Russo from Gao Feng Advisory Company, join John McElroy on the floor of the Beijing Auto Show to discuss the, up to now, booming Chinese automotive market and where it goes from here.

Volvo: Remaking the marque

The Financial Times, June 19, 2016

Under Geely, the carmaker is back in profit and selling well in China. But is it big enough to compete with its rivals?

There is nothing exceptional about the shiny grey chassis on display in western Sweden. Its wheels, suspension and engine are all where you would expect to find them. But it stands out because of what it represents: tangible evidence of progress in one of the most daring industrial stories of recent years.

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Known as compact modular architecture, it is a shared platform destined to underpin the small vehicles made by both Volvo Cars, the Swedish premium manufacturer, and its owner Geely, the Chinese mass-market brand. “This is a bridge between the two companies,” says Mats Fagerhag, head of the joint venture that created the platform. “Everything is nice words before you start a common project and face hard facts.”

Click here to read the full article at FT.com

Bill Russo’s quote:

“The most important thing [Geely] has done is to help Volvo become a China-centric company,” says Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based consultant. “Geely has shifted Volvo from being a marginally global company situated in Scandinavia to being a global one centred in China.”

SAIC, Alibaba to Mark Chinese Foray Into Connected Cars

Bloomberg News, June 1, 2016

20150729 GM Corporate Development Leadership vF w-Appendix Microsoft PowerPoint, Today at 12.15.21 PM

SAIC Motor Corp. is putting finishing touches to a sport utility vehicle that features software developed with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., marking the first foray into the connected-car business by two of China’s biggest companies.

The model will be available from September and be the first of a new category of vehicles for the automaker that’s fully integrated to the internet, according to Gu Feng, SAIC’s financial controller. Among its functions, the Roewe RX5 SUV will be able to suggest alternative routes with road closures or traffic congestion, provide directions to the nearest gas station when fuel is running low, and deliver music to one’s tastes, the company said.

“Connected cars are the inevitable trend of the auto industry,” Gu said in a phone interview, declining to give a price for the new model. “We worked with Alibaba instead of Google or Apple because the latter looks at the car as a piece of hardware to install their software. If they are successful, in future they may just get a Ford or GM to produce cars for them, so we don’t see as much synergy in working with them.”

The connected car is the latest battleground for automakers and technology companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. for digital revenue and control of the vehicle dashboard. Customer spending on such technologies will reach an estimated 40.3 billion euros ($45 billion) this year, with safety and autonomous driving functions the biggest categories, according to a study by Strategy&, a consulting group of PwC.

In choosing Alibaba’s Yun OS, SAIC is promoting a Chinese alternative to connectivity systems offered by Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. While Hyundai Motor Co. introduced Android Auto to its Sonata sedan last year and will roll it out to other models, Toyota Motor Corp. is involved in the open platform SmartDeviceLink championed by Ford Motor Co. and another initiative called MirrorLink.

“SAIC and Alibaba hope to grow the pie with services and even if they share it, it’s a bigger pie for both,” said Bill Russo, Shanghai-based managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Co. “The car is becoming the third space, after home and office, where people expect to be connected to the internet — and an increasing number of such collaborations are happening among traditional automakers and internet technology companies.”

Alibaba said it didn’t have additional comments on the collaboration with SAIC Motor.

Among its other plans, SAIC Motor is considering:

  • Listing some of the company’s units, such as its Chexiang.com platform, overseas with Hong Kong as the preferred market
  • Starting a second venture fund in Silicon Valley after investing the first $100 million on projects such as new-energy vehicles and electronic commerce
  • Building cars in India, possibly through acquiring existing plants
  • Selling left-hand drive cars to other European markets besides the U.K.
  • Building up its Hong Kong asset management unit over the next three to five years and issuing bonds

SAIC, which has manufacturing joint ventures with GM and Volkswagen AG, is seeking to boost deliveries of its own Roewe and MG brands and expand overseas even as it navigates the trend toward autonomous driving. The company’s sales have risen sevenfold in a decade to 5.9 million vehicles last year.

“The automobile is about to change fundamentally and it could run without an engine, gearbox, even a driver,” said Gu. “This is the most challenging moment for me and I feel the pressure every single day.”

Click here to read this story at bloomberg.com

China turns to second-hand cars to rev up consumption

The Financial Times, May 31, 2016

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As China revs up its shift to a consumption-led growth model, policymakers are trying to get more mileage out of a sputtering part of the economy: the used car market.

In most developed economies, sales of second-hand cars outnumber those of new vehicles by about two to one but the opposite is true in China, the world’s largest market for new vehicles.

“The majority of the vehicles in China are still owned by the first owner; secondary-owned vehicles are the minority,” says Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based consultant. “That is unlike any other country.”

To help stimulate the nascent market, Beijing recently introduced a policy that allows old cars from big cities to be resold in smaller ones, a move that will take full effect at the end of May. Previously, to protect local businesses, government regulations prevented cars being sold across provincial borders.

This will “open the pipeline”, according to Mr Russo. “Cars [in China] may be born in upper-tier regions but they tend to retire in lower-tier regions,” he said.

Though huge, China’s car market is in its infancy. Until 1984 it remained technically illegal for individuals to own a car and low personal wealth meant sales did not take off until the mid-2000s.

The country’s transition into a “new normal” of annual economic growth below 7 per cent following years of double-digit rises is potentially painful for carmakers accustomed to breakneck demand for new models. For used-car sales, however, newly thrifty consumers and a growing number of ageing vehicles are a promising combination.

China turns to second-hand cars to rev up consumption - FT.com Safari, Today at 11.57.42 AM

Rising supply, combined with government support and moves by manufacturers to encourage car-owners to upgrade sooner, promises to see the second-hand market grow at more than double the speed of that for new cars, according to Alex Klose, founder of JZWcars.com, a used car website.

The entrepreneur, Volvo’s former chief executive for China, set up his company in 2014 with the aim of becoming a trusted platform for a nascent market. “One thing holding people back from buying a used car is not knowing whether they can trust it,” he says.

Mr Klose is not alone in seeing the potential for second-hand cars. A flock of online platforms and technology start-ups have recently entered the sector.

“Everyone thinks that the space for growth in second-hand cars is very big — they think the sector is a very big cake,” says Li He, founder of Limiku.com, a used-car financing platform.

The government sees the used-car market as a way to boost consumption among those with lower incomes.

Mr Li, a tech industry veteran, believes online platforms are helping to improve the supply chain — a job he says big distributors are failing to do.

“The vast majority [of major distributors] have a second-hand car department but in reality they don’t have standards for the whole supply chain, including pricing and evaluation,” he says.

Big carmakers are now encouraging their dealerships to stop dragging their feet, however, as they seek a new source or profit for dealers.

Over-dependence on a single stream of revenue has sparked tensions between manufacturers and dealers in the past, when distributors asked for compensation for their losses during slow sales periods.

As dealerships look to evolve their business models, there is one set of people who are watching with trepidation: the original used-car salesmen.

Dong Wei has been selling used cars from his shoebox office at Beijing’s oldest and largest “old car market” since the 1990s.

“Before they [big dealerships] didn’t bother with second-hand cars, because the profits for new cars were so high,” he says. “Now they are starting to change their model.”

Mr Dong is nervous that disruption in the sector means the glory days for small-time salesmen are over.

“Before, the market would be full of people,” he says waving a hand at the unattended rows of shiny cars roasting in the heat. “These days, people prefer to go online.”

Click here to read this article at FT.com