Saturday, 13 February 2010
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Sunday, 27 January 2008
Outside of the Great Chinese Fire Wall:
Inside of the Great Chinese Firewall:
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
I guess most people have an affinity with Shanghai, they have either visited, or the have seen the skyline and the building’s from films such as Lara Croft, Mission Impossible and James Bond (Not to mention Paul Merton’s recent TV series), so everyone has an image of what they will see before they arrive – what TV, Films, Magazines and news articles don’t show you are the extremes of the everyday people who live, work and play in this enormous city.
Just across the HuangPu River in Pudong, you have an area called Lujiazui, this is where the worlds financiers have located and contains probably the most famous sights of Shanghai, The Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, HSBC Bank and an assortment of the best hotels in the world. Here you will find the usual pin stripped men and women of the financial world, a place to work, eat, sleep and play, along with the thousands of tourist that visit each day.
On the other side of the river you will find the Puxi area of Shanghai, is where the first modern day foreigners settled, and gave rise to the famous Bund area with its colonial architecture, nearby a district called the French concession, which as the name suggests was an area set aside for the French during the Foreign occupation of the city, it is still inhabited by many foreigners and is a chic, cosmopolitan area. Where dozens of fancy restaurants mingle with classy boutiques and designer hotels.
The choices of where to live in Shanghai are enormous, unlike Nanjing where you can only select between half a dozen or so expat compounds – the accelerated growth, and invasion of the foreigners in Shanghai, has led to a building boom for high class, extremely expensive and in some cases bizarre housing compounds, all designed to make us foreigners feel at home.
When we decided to move to Shanghai we limited our choices due to 2 distinct factors, The first being that having experienced traffic in big Chinese cities, we realised that it that it takes twice as long to get anywhere, and our desire not to have our children spend hours travelling to and from School, meant that we would choose somewhere that was local to the school of our choice, and secondly I would be working quite far out of the city and needed somewhere with good transport links to my work.
The injection of foreigners has seen an enormous growth in foreign schools, these employ English speaking teachers from around the world – they charge exorbitant rates for an education that finds itself tending to non-English speakers, rather than providing advanced education for private school money. Not a great situation, but then beggars can be choosers! We had decided that the British International School in Puxi, fitted our 2 criteria best – so all that was left was to identify somewhere to live.
Close to the school are many housing compounds, in many different styles. The closest 3 are the Shanghai Racquet Club, a resort based on the club med way of life, with apartment living in low rise structures, individual swimming pools dotted around each building, and a fantastic club house with professional tennis courts and coaches, a sprawling pool, large gym, squash courts, 2 restaurants, a shop and a beauty salon, all of this without a cash register in site – you pay with a membership card and settle your bill at the end of each month. The place has a holiday club atmosphere about it all, and caters to those who want to completely forget that they are in China.
The next and the most impressive is a place called Forest Manor, this has to be one of the most prestigious housing developments in the world, yes I did say world. Each house is individually designed, with rents ranging from $8000 per month, up to a staggering $32,000 per month. For that you get your own replica Whitehouse, including men in black style guards whispering into earpieces, and your very own golf buggy to help you ferry the kids back and forth to the lavish club house.
Well the choice we made wasn’t as ostentatious as Forest Manor (our budget barely got us past the security gate to have a look!), and the Racquet club just didn’t feel real – I love going on holiday because it is something different, living in a resort complex for more than a few weeks, seems more like hell than heaven to me!
We fell in love with our chosen abode as soon as the electric gates opened, and our car past under the hacienda style entrance. It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like, but imagine a cross between Bonanza, High Chaparral and the BBC soap Eldorado. With grapevines hanging from the carport, lime trees in the garden and whitewashed villas dotted around creeks and plantations, its incredibly beautiful, strangely authentic and completely surreal experience – quite what the dozens of local workers who tend to the gardens, empty the rubbish, clean the swimming pools and man the security think heaven only knows – to be honest I’m not quite sure what to make of it either, but while the sun is shining and I can reach out from my garden chair to pick a lime for my bottle of local beer – life is pretty good!
Sunday, 9 September 2007
Many months ago when I started this BLOG, I didn’t feel it necessary to introduce the company I worked for – well at least the brand. MG has to be one of the most well known brands across the world - better known than I ever imagined!
Whenever I was in new company and asked, “Whom do you work for?” “Nanjing Auto”, or “NAC MG” would always get the same response “Who?” Whenever I responded with “MG”. The response was always – oh “Rover”, “Yes I know – didn’t they used to make funny sports cars” or “My granddad used to own an MG”!
So you see outside the circle of enthusiasts (Or Chinese!) it will always be a reference back to the hey day’s of the British Motor industry – but at least it is always something I could explain fairly easy, and the majority of people would identify with the company or the brand fairly quickly. My new company of choice doesn’t quite have the same global identity – or does it?
I spent the last couple of weeks in the UK, a time to reflect on what has happened, and the future – but also a time to meet up with old and new friends. The conversation always started with – “So I hear you have left MG, who are you working for now?” If I answered with “MBH” (Manganese Bronze Holdings), “LTI “(London Taxis International) or “GEELY” I received the same response “Who?” Admittedly once I explained that LTI are the company that build the Iconic London Taxi – everyone instantly understood – maybe not the company, but at least the product!
So to save me going through the same explanation several hundred more times – I thought I would use my BLOG to give a brief explanation of the companies, and the product that will absorb my life for the next who knows number of years!
GEELY were the first private carmaker in China, and their story is incredible. Shufu Li Founded the company in 1998, he was born in 1963 into a farming family, and his personal rag to riches story requires a full BLOG entry on its own. I actually got to meet the guy personally, a few weeks ago, and was incredibly impressed by his powerful presence yet quiet demeanor.
Not satisfied with there global passenger car plans, GEELY Identified a market for a purpose built taxi, and have decided to join forces with LTI, to engage in a program of vehicle development, that will see the Iconic London Taxi as the first product being built from the partnership.
The history of LTI is quite different to GEELY’s, and is probably a more familiar tale of rise and fall!
To those “in the industry” it is still referred to as “carbodies”, the original name for the company that started in Coventry as far back as 1919 .
That name was very appropriate because it built separate vehicle bodies to supply the UK’s expanding motor industry, including providing every cabriolet body for all of Fords products up to 1964, and supplying bodies for companies such as Rolls Royce and Bentley, however it was probably most famous for supplying the body of the FX3 to Austin (MG link!), this became the most recognized form of the London Hackney Cab (Black Cab, London Taxi etc.) of all time. In 1959 it took over this business from Austin, and became a full vehicle producer. Building a variety of London Taxi themes over the years, and changing hands several times during the process it finally became part of MBH in 1973, and it changed from the original “Carbodies” name to LTI (London Taxis International) in 1984.
I guess whilst the company is interesting in itself – the history of the London Taxi is even more fascinating.
The history of the London Black Taxi goes back as far as 1625, when they were operated by inn keepers to ferry drunken soles home after hours (nothing changes there then!), the 1st Taxi rank opened outside the Maypole Inn on The Strand (London).
Soon after this Charles the 1st, and then Oliver Cromwell set up legal rulings to control the industry, and over the years the rules governing the industry, have been developed and now build into ensuring that London arguably has the best Taxi service in the world!
The design of the vehicle derives from some of the weird and wonderful laws that surround the vehicle regulations – called the “conditions of fitness”. For example:
The height of the vehicle comes from its requirement to seat a gentleman without him having to remove his bowler hat! (This has been preserved due to the vehicles current need to seat a wheel chair passenger).
The driving position, and that of the front wheels is all to do with the fact that the turning circle needs to be within 25ft (7.6m). A requirement that stems from the fact that the original taxi’s were horse drawn, and were required to travel down the centre of the road, to prevent the horse manure from blocking up the drains or fouling the pavements!
The entrance itself must not be more than 15 inches (38cm) above road level – again harking back to a time before kerbs and footpaths. All of this goes into ensuring that the shape of the vehicle is far more famous than the badge that adorns each cab – I cant think of anything else similar, but would welcome suggestions!
Other interesting, but maybe not pertinent facts about London Taxis
The London Taxi is also (and properly) referred to as “Hackney Carriage”, the word Hackney derives from the French “hacquenee”, which literally means ‘ambling nag’ which is a reference back to the horses that used to pull the carriages.
Wilhelm Bruhn invented the taximeter in 1891, and is where the term ‘TAXI’ comes from. Taxe from the French for ‘Price’ and ‘metron’ from the Greek for ‘measure’.
London Taxis don’t have to stop when you hail them, legally Taxis are only plying for business when they are stopped, and cannot refuse a fare under 6 miles or one that will take less than 1 hour.
London Taxi drivers are not legally obliged to give change. If you pay with the incorrect change, they can insist on sending the change to the passenger’s home by post!
Only 1% of London’s Taxi drivers are women.
So as you can see, a very strange joining of companies, but then as my dad would say – it take’s all sorts!
Friday, 31 August 2007
This all before the plane has left the ground makes you think that money is good, money is great – give me more!
You are then woken by a selection of the best looking air-crew (notice how I avoided the word hostess!), so that they can feed and provide you with sustenance for the last 4 hours of your luxury trip, a glass of named Champagne and a quick foot rub, prepares you for the final km’s of you journey, maybe its time for to catch a quick movie, plug in your laptop and write those business critical emails or just a chat with the onboard financial consultant? Before you know it you have missed Spiderman 3 and Harry Potter 12 – Christ in Economy that’s the best part of the flight!
So after all this luxury – was it worth the extra money? Too bloody right! Well ok – only if someone else is paying! I looked around the cabin, and using my in-depth powers of observations would suggest that only 10% of my fellow high rollers actually paid for their own tickets – the rest (like me) were subject to a very friendly company travel policy.
Then in contrast, I also remember flying back from Mumbai with Kevin Howe – I traveled in Economy, his Directors traveled in Business and he traveled on his own in 1st Class! Even then he wanted to be seen as more important. That flight is particularly infamous with those that traveled on it – and now with all of you that continue to read.
I had just finished an assignment in Pune, home of the ‘Shity Rover’ (The Indians name for the car – not mine!), the board meeting on that day requires a full BLOG, just to give justice to the language and physical fisticuffs that filled the day with blue air and the odd spattering of blood!
Sunday, 26 August 2007
I have received several emails asking for me to explain why I left NAC MG; it seems a straightforward question and one that shouldn’t be too difficult to answer.
However consider this.
I could be negative in my response leading to accusations of being bitter and twisted, and also provide essential material for the doomsayers out there! They would lap up any negativity in my writing, and fuel their already pessimistic and untrusting rhetoric. After all I probably have enough material to sink a battleship, and make any prospective customer, importer or journalist think again about the whole MG proposition.
I could of course continue to be positive and optimistic about the company and the future for the brand, but then this may beg the question – “So why did you leave?” surely if things were so rosy and wonderful any reason to leave must have been superficial or mercenary? This type of stance could be deemed as less than professional, committal or be considered just plain stupid!
This is where you can become torn between your allegiance to the brand, and those that try to breath life back into it, and your own personal / professional reputation.
For these reasons I will continue to keep quite, and only divulge the real reasons to those who buy the book. ‘Calling all publishers out there – I am now free of any corporate silencing shackles – offers on a email please!’
For me this represents a new chapter, one no less exciting or difficult.
I have taken on the role of introducing another one of the UK’s most famous and iconic vehicles into Asia; this time it’s not a brand but a complete vehicle style and transportation proposition. The company that makes the vehicle has been around since 1919 and remains in its original premises; it claims to be the largest British Owned vehicle manufacturer (an inherited and somewhat disappointing fact!).
The vehicle itself is recognisable around the world; some of you may remember that I used to teach my colleagues at NAC about British Culture, History and Icons (The famous tea and cake making lectures!). At the end of the lecture I used to show silhouettes of famous British Icons (The Queen, Stone Henge, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, The London Eye, even (sadly) David Beckham etc.) and then ask the audience to identify them. The three that were universally recognised were the Queen, David Beckham (who was far more popular!) and the vehicle I am now responsible for making in China - The London Black Cab.
Some of you who follow what is happening here in China will already know that Manganese Bronze Holdings plc the company responsible for manufacturing the iconic vehicle, created a Joint Venture partnership with one of China’s largest and fastest growing vehicle manufacturers – Geely. Forming a company call Shanghai LTI (LTI is the UK name for the manufacturing arm of Manganese Bronze Holdings plc and stands for London Taxis International).
Based out of Geely’s, Shanghai Maple production facility we will occupy a newly equipped production facility designed to not only manufacture the current incarnation of the iconic black cab (The TX4), but also future generations of both Taxi’s and passenger vehicles.
Before I go any further, and get accused of raping another part of British Manufacturing history, the site will compliment the Coventry factory – and in no way aspires to replace the design, engineering or production capabilities of the original plant. The factory in Shanghai will provide a production base for LTI’s expansion plans into new and emerging Asian pacific markets. It gives the company the opportunity to develop a vehicle more suited to the Chinese consumers requirements and expectations.
Import duty on foreign built vehicles into China is astronomical, and raises the price of the current British built cab into the luxury car sector, a cost that local taxi firms could not and would not pay. Anyone who has been to some of the big city’s here in China know that the taxi market is currently occupied by old and shabby VW Santana’s – a vehicle that has remained largely unchanged for the last 20 years – but still remains the car of choice for many of the country’s taxi company’s, because of its low initial outlay and servicing costs. The consumer however has become more sophisticated and is starting to demand a more luxurious and practical form of transport.
I will continue with my BLOG, and as always it will be split between industry news and personal views. I still have many friends and contacts at MG, and will follow the company’s progress in China as a distant spectator, as well as reporting a steady flow of news and progress from my next big challenge!
Thanks again for all the emails of support.
Monday, 20 August 2007
The second reason is as follows…
Over the past 18 months or so, my life and that of my family’s has been in the news – from breakfast with the BBC, walking along warehouses full of Longbridge history with Sky, and being interviewed by what seemed to be every news crew in the world at the opening ceremony’s in Pukou and Longbridge. The story of MG has surprised and amazed any preconceptions I had when I joined NAC, and the interest across the world has been overwhelming.
Last week, following weeks of discussions I confirmed my resignation with Mr Zhang Xin, General Manager of NAC MG. I had offered my resignation several weeks ago, and have been working with NAC to try and find a solution to the issues that have driven me away from a company, and a brand I love so dearly. However after countless nights without sleep and days with mixed emotions I feel that I can no longer continue in my position as NAC MG’s Quality Director.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of you out there who have sent me messages of support, and advice – as well as those who have offered often conflicting views – they always help to keep your feet on the ground!
I would also like to wish the very best of luck to those who will continue to try and keep a little bit of history, respect and decorum for this historical brand.
I hope that some of the people I have met along the way, will keep in touch and maybe even continue to follow my exploits as I carry on my enormous adventure working in China – albeit not for the company that brought me here! I have met many interesting,intelligent and observant people along this journey, I hope that those friends I have made continue to keep in touch.
I will write a more explanatory reason of why I have decided to leave when it becomes more appropriate. For now I just wanted to let those of you who have taken the time to read my BLOG (even with the spelling and punctuation mistakes!), be the first to hear this news.
Best Regards and Good Luck.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
It was something that had been muted ever since SAIC’s chairman Chen Hong, announced on the opening day of the Shanghai Motor Show that both companies should look at ways of cooperating. Since then the press has been full of speculation, while the companys took a vow of silence.
The press release itself was typically Chinese, revealing very little and allowing the journalists very little to work with, which however means that they have the opportunity to report as much that can be gained from reading between the lines, and gaining quotes from “Insiders”, “industry experts” and I noticed that in several reports – even quotes from my BLOG!
The release kick-started a frenzy of phone calls from all corners of the media, from as far away as the US, Europe and of course from the ‘independent’ media in China.
So to prevent my brain continuing to boil from over using my mobile, I thought I would go into print on what I know.
Before everyone gets excited – I don’t know a lot! In fact what I am going to write is based purely on my interpretation of what I read and what I see, this is by no means a company statement or an official line (That would have been a very short – “No Comment”). I thought I would get that in before the hacks that read my BLOG decide to use it as an exclusive!
It is very obvious that the Beijing government is embarrassed by the constant media reference to two Chinese company’s building the ‘same’ vehicle, and competing for the same target audience. Beijing also has a responsibility to ensure that the money it provides to develop the Country is well spent, and provides the best ‘return on investment’. Providing money to finance two company’s to compete against each other, by many people - may not be seen as the best way to spend 'tax' payers money? To this end, Beijing sent the message to both local governments ‘get you act together’, and see what can be done to reduce costs, improve profitability and develop the local Chinese industry to beat the foreign opposition – not each other.
Once this message had been delivered, both corporations had to tow the government line. To be honest that was what I thought it would be, just a façade of small announcements of cooperation to keep the Beijing government happy, maybe even a very public deal to work on a joint skunk project to develop an orange juice powered engine or something – whilst never really going the full way to a joint venture or even – dare I say – a “merger”.
I say I thought this would be the case, because during the last few days my mind has been changed to actually believe that there may be more to this. During one of the normal factory tours this week, and in amongst a group of 20-25 people I thought I recognized a few of the faces mingling around the vehicles on Display. I approached their guide who was a senior manager for the company – and she informed me that they were here from SAIC, and had been on a tour of NAC assets! In fact they had been here since Monday – only 48 hours after the announcement.
Now this may be part of a reciprocal visit by NAC senior management to Shanghai to review SAIC’s assets? Or perhaps a valuation tour, to ensure that any investment they make is actually buying them something (We don’t want to make the same mistake twice do we chaps?), Or just part of the normal due diligence process? I don’t know – but in my eyes this sparks a very open and positive step towards some form of cooperation behind my expectations.
So what would cooperation mean for NAC? And more importantly you’re probably thinking - for Longbridge? In my view the move can only be perceived as a positive step for both the MG brand and the UK factory. SAIC have an abundance of money, vast experience in the Chinese car market, they have employed some of the best engineer’s available whilst recruited some real heavy weight professionals to help them deliver worldwide domination. NAC on the other hand, has passion, a magnificent brand, fantastic facilities and a European headquarters – they are loved by the media, and offer a personal face to the rest of the world – something SAIC have been struggling with.
Of course cooperation could mean that MG becomes absorbed by another faceless conglomerate, making sterile cars for sterile markets, but knowing some of the engineers who are at the forefront of vehicle design for the ROEWE brand, they will fight to the end, before letting that happen.
So what does the future look like? Could it mean that the engineers at the former Ricardo2010 operation all move back home to the PDC? (Product Development Center – Longbridge), That we will see the ROEWE 750 be re-badged at an MG750 for the European market? And what of the new cars under development by SAIC/ROEWE? – Who would have thought that 2 years after the demise of MG-Rover, that we good be at the dawn of a complete new range of MG vehicles hitting the UK, European and even World Streets – funny old world!
This weeks Poll – A merger between NAC and SAIC – Good? Or Bad?
Last weeks Poll Results:
Which Car do you prefer MG7 or Roewe 750.
MG7 = 84%
ROEWE = 15%
Not sure what happened to the other 1% - perhaps they preferred the Honda Accord?
(Those of you who sent questions in – don’t worry all will be revealed next week, along with one or two surprises!)