American car buyers have long been the most popular consumers on the block — the ones all global automakers wanted and needed most to please. The U.S. has been the center of the automotive universe and domestic carmakers grew to depend on it.
But the sun is setting on an era when the U.S. set the tone for the rest of the world as China takes precedence.
Our Aug. 21 report about Honda's reordering of priorities in favor of China is a sterling example. Twenty years ago there were insistent rumors that the U.S. was so central to Honda's strategy that its global headquarters might be moved here. Indeed, it seemed a foregone conclusion.
At that time, global automakers viewed China as an interesting if undeveloped backwater. Now those same companies devote massive resources to meet Chinese consumers' demands. And make no mistake, those consumers are driving the product decisions at most automakers. The sheer size and potential of the market commands it.
Meanwhile, China's fledgling domestic automakers are becoming increasingly competitive, and their ambitions have not waned. They want to take their place among their global peers. Automakers elsewhere live in fear of the day when a Chinese automaker can export a vehicle of competitive quality at a fraction of the cost of a domestically produced equivalent.
Automakers everywhere are obsessed with the future — an altered state of autonomous vehicles, connectivity, electromobility and ride sharing. But the one fact about the future they must consider above all is the ascendancy of China.