Chinese drivers are rushing to buy sport-utility vehicles in an "arms race" for safety on the country's hair-raising roads, analysts say, as SUV sales hit the gas despite a slowing economy.
SUV purchases in the world's number one car market surged more than 50 percent in the first quarter of 2016 from a year earlier, while sedan sales fell 9.3 percent, according to industry data.
"The primary reason is a fairly primitive one," says Robin Zhu, auto analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. "It's about survival."It's about people's desire to feel safe on the roads. Because SUVs are bigger, and in low-speed collisions, from a consumer psychology point of view, you'd rather be the one in the SUV."
Another 50 models new to the Chinese market will go into production in the country this year, according to consultancy IHS Automotive, many of them to be showcased at the Beijing Auto Show opening Monday.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than a quarter of a million people are killed on the country's roads every year – over four times official government statistics. Death rates remain comparatively high because of inadequate rescue systems and poor treatment, according to a study by Chinese researchers published last year in medical journal The Lancet.
A businessman in an SUV in Beijing told AFP he chose it "because it makes me feel safe when I drive".
Bill Russo, automotive chief of advisory Gao Feng in Shanghai, said the appeal of an SUV comes from a feeling of "command" and the perception "you can deal with anything the road throws at you".
Rising road rage on China's congested streets has also made SUVs more popular, said Zhu.