“My two new Chinese millionaire best friends pull up outside my Beijing hotel in a matching pair of Ferrari 458s. One of them prefers not to be photographed, because his father is a senior military officer. We'll call him Mr Li. He looks every inch the supercar owner in his designer T-shirt and big mirrored aviator shades, but his financial commitment to Ferrari is rather greater than that of his European supercar-owning brethren. Import duties on luxury cars here mean that for every Ferrari you buy yourself, you buy the Chinese government one too, plus a big BMW. Mr. Li paid half a million pounds in cash for his 458 last year. He is 20 years old.

Fortunately, Mr. Li's friend Zhang Rongchang is more forthcoming. Aged 30 and a factory owner, he typifies everything I'd been hearing about Chinese buyers from the western firms trying to figure them out and sell them cars. "They are frighteningly young, these people," said one senior source. Bentley's average customer here is now under 35, and Ferrari and Lamborghini's profile is younger still. Contrary to some western views, Chinese buyers are no longer motivated mainly by status and price; this was once the case, the sources tell me, but is rapidly changing. Zhang loves Ferrari's F1 heritage, and loves the agility and noise of his 458 ('better than sex!'). He saw his first Ferrari in 2001 and "it became my dream to buy one." He did it aged 28. "The business was running well. Sometimes your dream comes so quick!"