Published on February 21st, 2019 | by Carolyn Fortuna
February 21st, 2019 by Carolyn Fortuna
China has become the largest auto market in the world due to explosive growth in private car ownership there. On one hand, Chinese policymakers must develop sustainable transportation policies, including those aimed at reducing automobile demand. On the other, they must continue to promote the auto industry in the name of economic growth.
Understanding the cultural currents behind car ownership, future car growth, and driver behavior is an interesting task. Identifying Chinese attitudes and sociocultural context surrounding the explosive growth in car ownership can help us to consider what is coming.
As Tesla moves deeper into the China auto marketplace, it’s useful to look at what has been working. A new Tesla YouTube video, “Camping with Model S,” provides some insight.
Tesla’s Broad Reach into New Markets Runs into Different Social Norms & Framing
Let’s just say it: many news stories today are so biased that they are unreliable. That’s because some writers lack a wide social perspective and, instead, set up their arguments within the narrow culture of their own communities. As longtime Tesla admirers, we must be willing to accommodate new social frames of reference — values, customs, stereotypes, conventions — when considering the horizons Tesla is crossing to reach new buyers and even entirely new markets.
We can use “Camping with Model S” as a teaching moment, a cultural opportunity to broaden our shared Tesla meanings. If we can do that, if we can perceive others’ cultural norms and values as salient and having worth, then we’ll have a greater understanding of how context influences Tesla car ownership.
The YouTube video begins with the Model S rolling in slow motion down a deserted stretch of parking lot asphalt. Waves of golden grasses create a soft barrier to the lane of traffic beyond. “Normally on weekends,” the voiceover in Mandarin, the primary dialect spoken in Beijing, begins, “I would be lying down or watching movies.” A camera drone flies and swoops just over the gently shifting grasses.
“After purchasing a Tesla, I think my personality changed a lot.” We now see the speaker, a male with dark hair and complementary dark zippered jacket. “The hobbies I’ve developed after purchasing my Tesla” — he walks toward the backlit Model S — “include a lot more outdoor activities.”
In China, where outdoor physical activity has been a traditional practice but where rapid industrialization has led to major degradation of the environment, this statement connects traditional Chinese values with the future, with advanced tech that actually complements nature rather than threatening it.
“If I have a sudden desire to go somewhere, I would just take my car and go somewhere. I wondered where was the highest place you could go in this country with a car.” In this context, with the Tesla touchscreen catching the viewer’s eye, we are to take the word “highest” literally: the speaker wants to get in the Tesla Model S and drive to the top of the nearest mountain. However, symbolism comes into play here, too, as “highest” connotes the pinnacle of social status, or an ethereal sense of human escape, or a feeling of dominance and superiority. All of these concepts can be associated with Tesla or Tesla ownership.
“So I shared this idea with my Tesla owner friends,” the narrator continues. The terms “individualism” and “collectivism” come to mind. Here, the speaker is balancing individualistic and collectivist tendencies. He is drawn to others who, like him, have the rarified experience of Tesla Model S ownership. This is an interesting aspect of Tesla ownership — on the one hand, it is representative of individual achievement and uncommon success, and on the other, it is about a broad community of like values — a “revolution” even. It is an attractive appeal to both individualism and collectivism.
In this case, because “five of them said they wanted to go,” we see a Tesla Model S culture emerging among specific people in China.
The Tesla Model S then whisks along the road. “There, we ate dinner, talked with one another.” At this point, we see the speaker filmed from the back as he places a duffle bag on the grassy curbside. The camera pans out to show him seated in a collapsible outdoor chair, looking ahead to the fading light of end of day. When he says, “We all slept in our cars,” our western tendency might be to remember pulling into a rainy truck stop with glaring lights and the loud noise of tractor trailers entering and exiting highway ramps. (You can tell mine is.)
In this case, however, the Model S is more reminiscent of the Volkswagen bus, in that the experience is collaborative and cathartic, a breaking away of the everyday, normality, and social conventions of the dominant environment. Does that sound like Tesla the company? Like the ever norm-shattering Elon Musk?
Rather than adhering to conformity, these Tesla Model S owners are moving beyond the static to the exclusive. The Model S is a bridge or first step in an endeavor to rise above mediocrity, or it is proof that you already have risen to a special level above the fray.
“I guess you can call it a car-house,” the speaker says, as he slides a sparse mattress into place in the rear of the car. The individuals are functioning as a collective whole to exercise freedom, experience the outdoors, and unite through shared experiences. To us in the western world, this overnight excursion to geographic heights is difficult to pinpoint exactly as temporal or spiritual. Perhaps it is a bit of both.
“I find that the Tesla is the perfect car for stress-relieving trips.” According to surveys, 42% of Beijing’s white-collar workers say they are under a great deal of pressure at work. In 2015, stress levels of senior managers hit a new high of nearly 78%. The concept of an overnight road trip in the Model S as stress-relieving is significant, then, as it may appeal to a large portion of the population. It may also be consistent with Taoism, where effortless action inspires a state of harmony, of grace, of being connected to ourselves, of moving and operating in a dynamic, spontaneous way — out of this world while in this world.
Images retrieved from YouTube/ Tesla
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