China is currently the largest producer of automobiles in the world, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, and Chongqing is at the center of it.
This industrial city in the country’s southwest is the Detroit of China. Several major automakers have factories there, including Ford Motor, whose largest production facility outside of Detroit is in Chongqing. Changan Automobile, the country’s second-most popular car brand, has its headquarters in the city.
Chongqing’s heavy industry developed as a result of war. Its location in the mountains meant it was well-protected from invasion, and during World War II, the Chinese military moved munitions factories from the eastern coast to Chongqing.
After the war ended in 1945, the facilities formed the basis for an auto industry. In the 1970s, factories started churning out cars and motorcycles.
By the early 2000s, when Ford entered the city, Chongqing had become the third-largest producer of cars and the largest producer of motorcycles in the country. At its peak, Chongqing-made motorcycles accounted for 60% of China’s motorcycle output.
This thriving auto industry spawned a motorcycle subculture that continues to this day. While many cities in China have imposed restrictions on motorcycle use on roads—as part of efforts to cut pollution and partly because of the rising preference for cars—Chongqing still maintains a love for the freedom machine. Here, motorbike enthusiasts still gather to talk about their prized machines and plan trips together.
“There’s a saying that when you’re in a car, you’re just sitting inside and watching the scenery,” says Xi’er, the owner of a bike shop in Chongqing, “but on a motorcycle, you’re immersed in the scenery.”