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Chinese Car Models

Yang Jing, 20, wearing a tailored black pantsuit with silver glitter, lured the crowd over to the platform where she stood with inviting gestures. Her catwalk was a little unusual and it's hard to tell whether she or the sleek sedan she was standing next to was the main attraction.

Nowadays global carmakers are rushing to establish their brands in China by turning on the glitz and wheeling out their best car models as part of business.

Compared with Western countries, the business of car models in China is still in its early stages. There are almost no professional car-show models on the Chinese mainland. Most of them are just catwalk models. But it certainly has come a long way since it emerged in the early 1990s.

Armed with more than just a pretty face and lean lovely legs, Yang provides information about the car specifications with two other male models during a recent car show. These guys are trained and have quite a bit of knowledge about the vehicles they're representing. It's a promising sign for the growth of the professional car-show model industry.

"People really get into it. Even those who don't want to come to the auto show and who aren't even into cars come to watch it because it's entertaining," says Luo Beijin, manager and trainer of Liquid Models.

Yang, standing 1.79 meters high, says she took intensive training to learn every major aspect of the car. In addition to an initial three-day training session, she has to read up on her modelling subject.

"This is the first time that I spent so much time preparing for a car I was presenting," she says. "Previously when we were heckled by customers for information we would have just referred them to salespeople."

Car-show models are paid anywhere between 2,000 (US$240) and 10,000 yuan a day, depending on experience.

Yang, now with Elite Galaxy Model Shanghai, was one of the 18 girls picked out by Ferrari to display their racing car last month at the Shanghai International Circuit racetrack.

Zhang Lei, 17, is the youngest of the Ferrari models. Born in Anhui Province, she came to Shanghai last September on a summer vacation. She was discovered by modelling agency on the street, so she quit school.

"To be a model is to be a chameleon," says Zhang, who is 1.78 meters tall. "You can't be stereotyped. You have to change the way you look when you're in different clothes or standing beside a different car."

Zhang takes ballet and English classes when she doesn't work. She says ballet is good for her body while English is more and more of a necessity in her working environment.

"The instructor at Ferrari shows was from Italy but spoke English. We will have more opportunities to work for international designers or on international stages, like Milan and Paris. English is part of the winning package," she says.

Male models has also gained popularity among car manufacturers. "When I started out, there were all women, but now there are more and more males," says Chen Jinjin, 23, who has five years of experience as a car model.

The modelling wardrobe has also changed. Gone are the days of skimpy clothes and tacky beaded gowns, now it's elegant dresses for classic antique cars, sporty outfits for sports car and wild getups for jeeps.

"When I started, we were told to wear less, sometimes lowcut bikinis," recalls Chen, who has worked for Volkswagen and some domestic auto manufacturers. "But things changed and people have a better fashion sense now."

But some things just don't change. Men still try to hit on the female models.

"A lot of viewers ask me to have photos with them," she says. "Some of them won't let me go even when the photo is taken. It can be a bit nasty but I just ignore them and keep going."

(Shanghai Daily July 20, 2004)

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