SHANGHAI (AFP) - Chinese buyers swarmed around hundreds of vehicles at the Shanghai auto show at its opening on Sunday, highlighting the importance of the world's largest car market to manufacturers.
Chinese and foreign automakers used models dressed as Playboy bunnies and dance performances to capture the eyes of potential customers, while long lines formed to try out driving simulators at one Japanese company.
Among the shoppers was entrepreneur Ou Yang, who browsed the sleek black vehicles on offer by luxury German car maker BMW.
"Since I enjoy driving very much, I prefer cars with higher maneuverability. As for the appearance, personally I pay more attention to the interior than the exterior," he said.
China's auto sales reached 19.31 million vehicles last year, a 4.3 percent rise from 2011, according to a Chinese industry group.
The country has been the world's largest auto market since 2009.
Competition has become more intense as sales growth has slowed since 2010 and more companies have piled into the promising market.
"The bar is very high today, compared to five or eight years ago," said Sha Sha, who leads consultancy McKinsey's Automotive & Assembly Practice in Greater China.
But she added: "Given that China is such a sizeable growth market, the game is fair for both incumbent players and really competitive attackers."
Sales of Japanese brands in China have suffered since last year amid political row over disputed islands that sparked street protests across the country and calls for boycotts.
Toyota's China president, Hiroji Onishi, said he expected sales to recover later this year as the company launched new products, despite the lingering anti-Japanese sentiment and more competition.
"The market is growing very large. That means competition is only going to increase among the various players," he told reporters.
Another visitor to the show said he would not buy a Japanese car, after he viewed luxury Cadillacs from US auto giant General Motors.
"I would definitely not buy a Japanese car... because of national sentiment," said the Chinese public servant, who declined to be named.