SHANGHAI -- The models wore traditional cheongsam dresses and medieval Chinese armor as well as the usual rainbow of shiny miniskirts at the Shanghai auto show this weekend, but the many midsize cars and sport utility vehicles on display made it look almost like an American auto show.
Gone are the days when buyers in China, the world's largest car market since 2009, mostly purchased fuel-sipping compacts and subcompacts. Their shift toward larger and ever-more-numerous vehicles is not only driving up China's oil import bill and contributing to pollution but is also fattening automakers' profits -- and manufacturers made clear over the weekend that they plan to infuse the market with large vehicles.
General Motors announced that it would introduce nine new or restyled S.U.V. models in China in the next five years, and disclosed that it would build four more factories and add 6,000 jobs to accommodate its ever-rising sales here.
A Chrysler executive said that his company would start making Jeep Cherokees in Changsha in southern China by the end of next year. And China's domestic carmakers showed a wide range of S.U.V.'s, the heftier the better.
Sedans were also bigger than at previous Chinese auto shows. Ford promoted its Lincoln brand, which it is bringing to China. Many manufacturers gave prominence to luxury cars, a nod to the rising affluence in China of the upper middle class and the wealthy.
"Our focus is on luxury vehicles and S.U.V.'s going forward," said Bob Socia, president of G.M. China, which has been neck-and-neck for years with Volkswagen as the Chinese market leader.
"Not long ago, both were considered niche segments," he said. "Both are now mainstream and growing rapidly."
S.U.V. sales jumped 49 percent in March from a year ago as new models poured into the market. Overall auto sales in China climbed 13 percent in March and are on track for almost 21 million vehicles sold this year. By comparison, the latest forecasts in the United States this year are for a little more than 15 million vehicles. Both totals include sales of pickup trucks and other light commercial vehicles.
Mr. Socia predicted that S.U.V. sales would double by 2015, to four million vehicles. But that would still leave them trailing midsize car sales, which have surged to five million cars a year.
That has made midsize cars not only the largest market segment in China, but also bigger than the entire auto market in Japan, or the combined auto markets of Germany and Britain, said Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president for global marketing, sales and service and of the Lincoln brand.
Having opened one assembly plant in Chongqing last year, Ford is in the process of building another assembly plant, an engine factory and a transmission factory in Chongqing, as well as assembly plants in Hangzhou and Nanchang.
Ford is predicting that the annual Chinese market will soar to 30 million cars and trucks by 2020. General Motors is forecasting 35 million by 2022.
Fuel consumption concerns in China often focus more on the sheer number of vehicles being sold than on the fuel economy of each one. But while China is a negligible market for the true behemoths that remain fairly popular in the United States, like the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Lincoln Navigator, the upward creep in vehicle size in China toward midsize cars and S.U.V.'s is complicating policy makers' efforts to limit total oil use.
S.U.V.'s and midsize cars in China tend to be a little smaller than in the United States. The S.U.V.'s are almost entirely what the auto industry refers to as crossover utility vehicles, which are built on car platforms instead of the heavier pickup truck underbodies that Detroit relied on in the 1980s and '90s.
Midsize cars in China tend to be what are classified as lower midsize cars in the United States, like the Ford Fusion, sold here as the Ford Mondeo. Upper midsize cars, like the Toyota Camry, are also gaining ground but are not quite so popular.
The shift toward bigger cars and S.U.V.'s, despite punitive taxes of as much as 40 percent on models with large engine displacements (more than 4 liters) is prompting concern in Beijing. Policy makers there are weighing whether to follow the example of the Obama administration and the European Union in increasing gas mileage regulations.
Stricter rules could hurt sales of the largest models, but automakers have already been preparing by offering many cars and S.U.V.'s with slightly smaller engines than are used in the United States. "The most important discussion around this area is the changing fuel-economy requirements," Mr. Farley said.
Much of the change in Chinese automotive tastes is culturally driven. Until the last few years, sport utility vehicles were dismissed as looking too much like farm vehicles, at a time when many recent Chinese arrivals in cities were eager to shed any link to their rural pasts.
Hatchbacks were also unpopular, as a big glass window in the back of a vehicle instead of steel-enclosed trunk struck many buyers as unsafe, particularly after the crime waves that rolled through many Chinese cities in the 1980s and '90s.
But public safety has improved in China, suburban and rural retreats from polluted cities have become fashionable and tens of millions of Chinese are now traveling overseas and becoming aware of the international popularity of higher-riding vehicles.
"S.U.V.'s were definitely uncool to drive here, and now something is changing -- they're cool," said Michael Dunne, an automotive consultant specializing in Asia.
Personal injury lawsuits from rollovers have been costly for S.U.V. manufacturers in the West, but such litigation tends to be very rare in China. Virtually all of the vehicles sold in China are manufactured either by Chinese automakers or, more often, by multinationals in joint manufacturing ventures with Chinese automakers. Most Chinese automakers in turn are owned by local governments that also have considerable control over local courts, making the automakers nearly invulnerable to private litigation.
Air pollution has become a big issue in China, particularly after severe smog early this year in Beijing. But Western and Chinese studies have attributed most of the smog to coal-fired power plants, factories and diesel-powered trucks and buses, not gasoline-powered cars.
One question mark hanging over the auto industry is the Communist Party's austerity and anticorruption campaign, in place since November. The campaign has hurt many luxury restaurants and some luxury retailers, especially in Beijing.
But auto executives insisted that the program's effects on their sector had been more muted. Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., said that sales in China of his company, a subsidiary of BMW, were up only slightly in recent months from a year earlier. But he attributed slower growth mainly to an inevitable stabilization of the Chinese luxury market as it has matured, not the austerity campaign.
"Growth isn't any longer as explosive as it had been in the years before, but we are still satisfied," he said, while declining to provide sales data for China.
For now, manufacturers in China are so focused on the Chinese market that exports are limited and mainly aimed at other emerging markets, with little sign of large-scale shipments to industrialized countries. Mr. Socia of G.M. and other executives said that their factories could barely keep up with demand in China.
John Burton, the general manager of the Fiat and Chrysler joint venture with the Guangzhou Automobile Group, declined to speculate on where and whether the company might export Jeeps from China.
"Potentially we could," he said, "but if the Chinese market sucks them up then they'll stay here."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.