But things are changing quickly, and China’s capital city will probably have nine million cars soon as well.
This is why the centre of gravity in the motor industry has moved East and all major car companies — including Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Ferrari — made a beeline to exhibit their wares at the Auto China 2012 motor show this week.
China is the world’s largest car market. It passed the US in 2009 in total sales numbers — shifting 18.5 million vehicles last year. Carmakers expect annual sales in China to rise to 30 million vehicles a year by 2020. Several hope to double their sales from the 2011 levels by 2015.
So it's no surprise that the flavour of Beijing show is hinting at that future. Star of the show was the outrageous Lamborghini Urus — a bullish supercar sports utility vehicle from the Italian car-maker.
The Urus, set to go on sale from 2016 is a beast that Volkswagen-owned Lamborghini reckons will be the fastest-accelerating 4x4 on the planet, with a 0-100km/h time of less than 4.7 seconds and a top speed of about 300km/h, thanks to its hybrid four-litre petrol engine linked to an electric motor. Just the thing for the school run.
Volkswagen showed off a sporty Beetle roadster that took my fancy. And there weren’t as many knock-off lookalikes as in previous years, though some Chinese makers had a crack at a Rolls-Royce and a Mini.
And in China, the People’s Flag may be deepest red, but they also like to fly the Union Jack. The British flag was much in evidence, especially on the Chinese-owned MG stand, where it adorned a map of the British Isles, and also on the German-owned Mini stand. Indeed, Mini went the whole hog with what looked like models posing as flat-capped cockney barrow boys.
Hats off also to MG, the once-great British sports car marque, now owned by Shanghai Automotive. Brilliant stand and it won the show’s best ‘concept’ — the MG Icon, a 21st-century take on the MGB, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.