David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China, was mocked on a Chinese social networking site for committing a major social faux pas – according to commenters on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site, Mulroney’s Toyota Camry, his official car, lacked sufficient prestige for a man of his station.
While the Audi A6L is the standard vehicle of choice for anyone who is somebody in China, Canadian cabinet ministers are capped at a car allowance of $32,500. Most Canadian politicians opt for Canadian built cars, which leaves them with a pretty good selection of rides; the Ford Edge, Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Impala can be seen in motorcades and government building parking lots. Prime Minister Stephen Harper usually rolls around in a black Suburban, and our Governor-General (the British Monarchy’s representative in Canada, and our official head of state) gets a Canadian made Lincoln Town Car.
The Globe and Mail article goes on to explain the semiotics of Chinese and Canadian car choices. Two obvious differences; any Canadian government official that bought an expensive luxury car with taxpayer funds would be publicly crucified – in fact, it’s happening right now. Second, driving a Buick minivan in North America is anything but a status symbol, no matter how cool it is in China.