A line of US$64,935 jeeps circles around the parking lot of the Agricultural Exhibition Hall in Beijing at six o’clock on a Saturday morning. Before the city wakes, a 10-jeep convoy of the Beijing Land Rover club has departed its habitual meeting point for a trial drive in the shadow of the Great Wall in Changping region north of Beijing.
Once a month, the drivers take on sand hills and rock formations during weekend competitions in Inner Mongolia, a four-hour drive from the capital. Longer trips have taken club members to remote mountainous regions like Donghuang and Xinjiang.
Clubs for drivers of luxury car brands are few and far between compared to the legion of associations that cater to owners of the locally made Chery QQ and Chinese-made Volkswagen Polos, said Li Li, a club coordinator and presenter on Beijing’s popular Traffic Radio.
Li takes calls from driving enthusiasts and car clubs on her daily FM103.9 show. “Owners of luxury cars tend to be more discreet,” she said. “They form clubs to share interests rather than just to drive and often split into smaller groups and do the things they like.”
Interestingly, an increasing number of female participants is driving the growth of car clubs across all brands.
Few high-end auto clubs charge an annual membership fee. Instead, members mingle and enjoy perks at car club soirees. Mercedes-Benz club members and guests received VIP cards at a party to launch the Ningbo Mercedes-Benz Club in March this year, along with a glass model of the car to commemorate the event. The VIP card gives discounts at selected local restaurants, boutiques and health clubs.
The club is more of a social outlet now, but will develop to offer technical help.
“Mercedes-Benz club gives car owners a platform to come together. In the future, the club will give services and advice, like a car nanny,” said club member Wang Li.
Marketers drawn to the affluent crowd help car clubs front some of the costs for club events. In Bentley’s showroom, silver and black versions of its best-selling model, the Flying Spur, are parked alongside displays for the Scottish whiskey label Royal Salute. The liqueur brand co-sponsors some of the events for Bentley China, which hosts an average of four parties a year for its customers.
“We pour whiskey and wine and invite pop stars to come along,” said Hu Hailong, sales manager at Bentley Beijing.
Club perks aside, members sometimes just enjoy each other’s company. “Outside of Porsche club events in Shanghai, Porsche owners participate in various activities together,” said club member Han Qimeng.
Twenty members of Beijing Land Rover club will spend seven days driving to westerly Xinjiang over the upcoming National Day break. A service car with Land Rover parts and a mechanic accompanies the drivers on long trips. Some members drive there and fly back. Four people travel in each jeep and split the bills. Naturally, they all stay in top quality hotels or brave the elements beneath the canvas of luxury McKinley tents.