DETROIT – Chinese consumers love a good deal, but they also have a keen eye for interior style and craftsmanship and a keen appreciation for how a product is manufactured, a Visteon Corp. executive says at this week’s Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here.

“They know more than you do about how things are put together,” Richard Vaughan, manager of Visteon’s design office, tells an industry crowd at a panel session titled, “Developing Interiors for Asia’s Booming Market.”

Visteon claims the largest share of the Chinese interiors market.

“Because so many work in manufacturing, they pay close attention to how something is manufactured,” says Vaughan, who has led extensive research efforts for Visteon among Chinese consumers. “They are more particular than we are in the U.S.”

Consumers don’t purchase an item merely to use it but to admire it, smell it and study its fit-and-finish, Vaughan says. Years ago, the Chinese wanted products from Europe and the U.S.

“But today, they want goods that reflect their own culture,” he says. “They want things that demonstrate craftsmanship.”

The improving quality of Chinese products is feeding that nationalist trend. Ask Chinese consumers to identify items that convey craftsmanship, and they are likely to say a television, camera or iPod than a watch or a fine piece of jade jewelry.

“It’s a mistake to think the Chinese have lower standards, or that they will tolerate lesser interiors than we do in North America,” Vaughn says. “That’s not the case.”

It also is completely acceptable for a person in China to say he is buying an expensive car, because it will make him look successful, rich or powerful,. “There are a lot of things that are different in China. You have to adjust to them,” Vaughan says. “You really have to go to China and do research.”

On the materials side, Chinese consumers prefer chrome and high-gloss wood finishes in cars, such as the popular Buick Lacrosse, even though many Americans would find the trim to be gaudy, says Edward Hightower, a partner with AlixPartners LLP, a consulting and turnaround firm. “In China, that is considered dignified.”

Because so many vehicles are purchased to chauffer government officials, Hightower says a number of cars, including the Cadillac STS and BMW 5-Series, are sold with an extended wheelbase to accommodate a more spacious backseat – including seats that massage.

As with Vaughan, Hightower sees a trend toward more local content in Chinese vehicles, but he also notices Chinese auto makers using Italian design houses to help establish a particular styling language.

“The Chinese don’t want anything cheap or boring,” Hightower says, noting there are some 10,000 automotive suppliers in the country doing business in a sector that is highly fragmented.

“There is significant opportunity to consolidate local suppliers,” he say, adding that profit margins generally are better for Chinese suppliers than for Chinese auto makers.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com