Volkswagen backs TV series in China

Road safety theme is linked to Olympic sponsorship

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BEIJING--Since most of China's adult population grew up in cities where the streets were filled with bicycles, not cars, the country is rife with auto accidents caused by inexperienced drivers and a lack of understanding about road safety.

Aware that China is quickly evolving into a car culture, Volkswagen Group, one of the nation's top car marketers, has created a television series about road safety, as part of its sponsorship program for next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. China's capital alone now registers almost a thousand new drivers every day.

The number of cars on the road in other major cities around China is also skyrocketing. In October, Volkswagen's joint ventures with two local partners, First Auto Works and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. sold 38,310 units and 29,402 units, respectively, across China. VW's main foreign rival in China, General Motors, sold 67,712 units made by its joint venture partners in China during the same month.

Designed to raise awareness for risks in the worsening urban traffic, the German automaker created 11 episodes of "People’s Road Safety." The idea is to discuss topics like using safety belts, protecting children inside a car, loading a car correctly and how to behave in critical driving situations, like not driving while talking on a mobile phone.

The show was created with four Chinese TV stations and filmed in China by the producer of a German road safety program called “Der 7. Sinn” (Seventh Sense), working with a Chinese film team. The series will be broadcast in Chinese cities with growing traffic problems like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as second tier cities such as Dalian.

"Facing fast-growing traffic and a high share of beginners on China’s streets Volkswagen initiated this program to contribute to more road safety, just as the 'Seventh Sense’ in Germany did," said Zhang Suixin, a member of Volkswagen's management board in China. "As automobile partner of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Volkswagen takes the theme 'People’s Olympics' to [be involved] in improving safety for all road users and to leave lasting Olympic legacy for China."

The series is connected to a road safety research project that Volkswagen started in China with the Automobile Institute of the Tongji University in Shanghai, which has analysed causes and consequences of 400 accidents in that eastern Chinese city. To generate broader data, Volkswagen added another city, Changchun, in northern China. One finding: Chinese drivers have a low awareness of the risks encountered in daily traffic.

"China has to deal with the challenge to adapt its infrastructure as well as the awareness for safety in the fast developing mass motorization,” said Wang Hongyan, who heads up the project. His research was the basis for the TV series.

China had 90,000 road deaths last year, according to official government estimates, but the real figure is believed to be far higher. About 90% of traffic deaths are caused by poor driving, says China's Ministry of Public Security. Few Chinese drivers regularly use turn signals and headlights, for example, even when driving at night, and many consider windshield wipers to be a distraction.
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