The myth of Iowa City’s luxury cars

From the blog Tales from the Global Diaspora By Lu Shen


Lu Shen

Pictures of a Maserati car in town have been widely posted on social media platforms. People bet the owner is Asian, and that could be true.

In Iowa City, it has become a phenomenon, if not a fact, that the drivers of those Mercedes, BMW and Audi luxury cars are mostly international students from Asia — mainly from China — currently, more than half of the international students enrolled at the UI are from Mainland China, according to the latest University of Iowa International Students and Scholars Statistics.

Recently, Iowa City’s luxury car dealership Carousel Motors made itself the lead of a Bloomberg Businessweek article titled, “Chinese Students Major in Luxury Cars.” Carousel Motors has seen a rapidly growing demand for expensive automobiles in this small college town along with the influx of Chinese undergraduate students over the last few years.

Bloomberg reported that across the country, Chinese students had spent about $15.5 billion on new and used cars in the 22 months ended in October, 2013.

While car dealerships throughout the United States are stoked about serving their young Chinese customers, people are wondering: Where did these kids get the money? Why are they so obsessed with luxury cars?

The fact is, most Chinese undergraduates studying in the U.S. come from well-off families, if not super rich ones. Parents are willing to buy expensive cars for their children.

Plus, it is widely perceived that luxury cars are far cheaper in the U.S. than in China. With the same amount of money spent on a “luxury” car in the U.S., people can only get a “decent” one in China. Some Chinese students may not even consider an Audi car as luxurious.

Chinese people refer to the young who lead a luxurious life as “Fu erdai”– rich second generation — often times with sarcasm. And study-abroad students are always pictured as a spoiled group of “Fu erdai” living a decadent life with their newly affluent parents’ money in both China and America.

While there might be some truth in it, I would say it’s unfair. A lot of us don’t have cars, and many have to work part-time to feed ourselves. What people may not know is that some even send money back to their families in China.

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