Wednesday, 19 September 2007

House Hunting

I have written before about the contrasts in China, and that these are what you love or hate about the country. Well these contrasts are more evident in Shanghai than majority of cities I have visited.
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.
Several of these have been the focus of reports before; probably the most famous of these is the Thames Town complex (which isn’t actually in Shanghai, its about 35Km outside in a place call Songjiang), this is a pastiche of all things English – including windmills, churches, village greens, mock Tudor houses, corner shops and small bars – all of which are deserted.
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!
To think that only 30 minutes away from our Spanish / Mexican style dwelling, you can be amongst a forest of skyscrapers, 20 minutes a range of colonial buildings, 15 minutes from the tree lined avenues of the French quarter and never more than 5 minutes away from enormous tower blocks that provide the majority of accommodation for the 17 million inhabitants of Shanghai, in fact I was discussing this with a movie producer who said that China was quickly becoming the place to shoot movies, and was on the brink of an explosion due to the variety and availability of real life sets, cheap labour, inexpensive hotels and an ever improving access from the Chinese official’s. Why was I speaking to a movie producer? Well someone has had the foresight to make a film about the trials and tribulations associated with MG-Rover, PVH and NAC MG debacle – not sure if it will ever make the spotlight of Hollywood or even Bollywood, but I imagine the households of Nanjing and Longbridge will be glued to their goggle boxes!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

It takes all sorts!

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!



The actual company I work for is a joint venture between separate entities, MBH (British) and GEELY (Chinese). This is an important fact, mainly because most of us have seen the rest of the UK manufacturing industry disappear in to foreign ownership. This is in fact an expansion. MBH (The owners of LTI) have seen good growth in their European and North American expansion programmes, and can see the enormous potential for growth in Asia – to do this you need an Asian partner, which is where GEELY come in.

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.
He has headed up an automotive company that produced a only handful of vehicles in 1998 through to a planned production of 300,000 vehicles in 2007.
With a business plan that simply identified a market, filled it and made money from it - simple but very effective. Whilst everyone else fought over the middle class and business purchasers – GEELY provided what the majority needed, economical, simple and reliable forms of transport. His empire has expanded to building factories all over China and exports to over 40 countries (compare that to NAC MG’s or even MG-Rover’s recent performance!). Having secured the lower end of the car market, GEELY now has ambitions on the rest of the automotive sectors (Just take a look at the latest vehicles to see where those ambitions lie).

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.

The term CAB, comes again from the French for ‘Jump like a Goat’. As the original cabs came from France and used to bounce over the cobbles of Londons Streets.

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

Mile High Club!

I decided to write this BLOG entry whilst sitting in 1st Class on a flight to the UK, why? Well for the last 2 years I have made the return journey from Shanghai to London sitting in Cattle class with my knee’s tucked firmly underneath my chin, and a screaming toddler trying to give me a back massage by kicking the seat behind me for 12 hours. Having made the 12-hour trip a dozen or so times in the last couple of years! I felt that it was time to travel in style for once.

I have always been one of those people that felt 1st/upper/pompous class has always been that – a privilege for the rich and the stupid! Those who see no issue with spending at least 10 times that of what it costs to travel economy – just to show everyone that they are more important than the rest of use mere mortals. An opportunity to jump the queue, to stand at the front, to get a bigger plate and to attract the prettier hostess! Something that was more about status than comfort or convenience. After all we all travel on the same tube of death, we all take-off and arrive at the same time, have to go through the excruciating immigration and customs procedures, and wait for the wheel of pain to deliver our man-handled luggage! However I am here now to crush a concept that it’s all about status!

The fact that your exclusivity starts with a knock at the door by a man in a suit and a cap, to take you to the airport, in a car that most of us can only dream about owning, rather than screaming down the phone at the taxi company who forgot your booking, before squeezing your case into the 1970’s built saloon vehicle that you would have paid the tat man to dispose of 20 years earlier!

Then you avoid queuing by walking straight to the front of the queue, dropping off your bags and bypassing the long line of people waiting to clear immigration and security (I guess security believe that terrorists don’t fly 1st Class?) a quick shoulder / back massage in the private lounge, followed by a champagne reception in your executive suite on board what seems to be a parallel universe of air transport!
This all before the plane has left the ground makes you think that money is good, money is great – give me more!

Once you are In the air and the on-board beautician has finished clipping your toe nails and massaging your shoulders for the third time – lunch is served, of course only after you have chosen from the in-house menu that would put Gordon Ramsey to shame. Followed by copious amounts of fine wine and top shelf spirits all designed to remember the flight, and tell your friends and family how fantastic it was (see how it works!). Not content with the hand to mouth service, you even have the opportunity of walking to the cabin bar! A bar, Christ what happened to smuggling the duty free on board and pouring the Barcardi into plastic cups until you had run out of coke? Here you can sit around other smug travelers and go into detail about just how big the last deal you brokered was, or how property prices in London don’t really reflect the investment you made 5 years ago!


So fed and drunk, you retire to your seat, which by now has been transformed into a bed, forget trying to squeeze your leg into a cross position, or even dumping your exhausted body onto the folding table in front of you (Chinese style!), this is a fully fledged 180 degree flat bed, complete with goose feather pillow, Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffily teddy bear. The last time I had such a comfortable sleep was way before the birth of my two children – forget hiring a baby sitter, just book a long haul flight in 1st class.

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.

To put that statement into context, I remember traveling back from Washington DC with Hans Peter Langer who was head of Group Quality for Rover And BMW group - in cattle class, then traveling this same journey Shanghai tp London with Yang Junhu – S&M General Manager of NAC MG in economy – both companies had similar travel policy’s, which were basically that you travel in Economy regardless of position or status.
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!



But to cut things short, we arrived at Mumbai airport to long and arduous queues, Mr. Howe decided that the ‘Crew” channel was shorter and barged there way into the departure lounge – leaving the rest of us to tackle the Indian authority’s. Finally on the plane, one of our team became ill somewhere over middle Europe, in his attempt to make the toilets; he fell and smashed his glasses – leaving a shard of glass piercing an eyeball, concerned, the flight attendants called for medical support. Kevin perturbed by the ensuing chaos decided to take a look for himself. On hearing the Doctors call to land as quickly as possible, Kevin demanded that the flight continued to its destination. On questioning the patient, the Doctor could see that the plane was not landing anywhere else but Heathrow! Kevin’s whispered words to the patient gave him 1 option, not comfort!

With this in mind, I can see the reason for flying luxury class, not so you can kick a man when he is down, but to enjoy 12 hours of your life, rather than waste it! If nothing, its worth me feeling refreshed and relaxed when I arrive in my home country, and my ability to write 2 BLOGS this week rather than the normal 1 – that surely was money well spent? (Well someone else’s money!).

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Firstly I have to thank those of you who sent me messages of good luck – I really appreciate all of those of you that have been interested in what I have been up to over the last however many months. I have been amazed at the response to my resignation from all over the world – an indication perhaps on just how important the MG brand has become to people of all ages, colors, creeds and cultures.

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 end of the road….

Firstly I must apologize for the lack of BLOGS recently, and also for the postponement of the BLOG promising to answer all of those questions sent in by the many MG enthusiasts around the world. Two reasons for the delay, firstly the impact of the SAIC takeover is still echoing around the walls of NAC’s facilities, and has thrown conjecture and chaos into some of the future planning. The answers I had prepared seem obsolete in light of the current situation.

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.

Paul

Thursday, 2 August 2007

MG-Roewe?

In my last BLOG I suggested that the most over asked question I received was about the comparison between the ROEWE 750 and the MG7. Well no sooner do you report something, than everything changes. Since last Friday, when both NAC and SAIC went public with there plans for world automotive domination – my phone hasn’t stopped ringing!

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 fa├žade 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!)

Thursday, 26 July 2007

ROEWE 750 Vs MG7?

Can you guess what the most over asked question I get is?

Well you would be wrong is you said any of the following:

When will the MG7 be on sale in China?
Will we build MG7’s at Longbridge?
What are the differences working for Chinese management Vs Western management?
Can Chinese built cars be as safe as European built cars?
How much do you pay the workers in Nanjing?
Is there really a market for the MGTF in China?
Did I know that I looked like Kevin Howe when I grow my Goatee?
Kevins the one on the right!

Or even do I want to buy a DVD, watch or a handbag? (Chinese Joke!)

The most frequently asked question is “What do I think of the Roewe 750?”






My answer is always the same, I think SAIC, and the boy’s (and girls) at Ricardo 2010 have done a magnificent job. Everybody raves on about how we at NAC moved 20,000 tones of equipment, built an 800,000 sq meter factory, re-sourced over 3500 parts and brought 3 car models into production in around 18 months, but when I look at what they have done – even I have to bow down to their achievements.

I haven’t been close enough to the project (ROEWE) to get all of my facts correct, but from what little I know, this is what they have managed to achieve in the last couple of years:

· Re-Design the complete vehicle (to the layman the vehicle may not be visually so different, but the CAD work that must have been done to incorporate the new rear end, and ensure all of the surfaces were correct for producing new press tools must have been an immense task).



· Designing, engineering and developing the press & BIW tooling from scratch is an enormous feat of engineering, quality and manufacturing development. This work would normally take several years, and a vast number of experienced engineers. I have to admit the results are amazing. The fact that they have stretched the vehicle by 100mm and that all of the doors, boot and bonnet fit nicely is testament to the hard work carried out, in such a short space of time.



· When it came to finding and sourcing all of the parts that go together to make vehicle, SAIC had probably a more difficult proposition than we did. NAC had ‘acquired’ a vast proportion of the tooling required to make the parts that go together to create a modern vehicle, whereas SAIC just had some parts, various drawings, and in some cases – nothing at all. Having done some of this work myself – I know how difficult it must have been to find suppliers, design and develop tooling, mature the parts for quality and finally assemble everything together.



· ROEWE have done an incredible marketing job, I remember how far my jaw dropped when I arrived at the 2006 Beijing Motor Show, and saw that ROEWE hoardings that circled the car parks around the airport, and then again as I sat near the Bund in Shanghai, and watched the ferry’s go up and down the Hung Pu river with ROEWE commercials being beamed out across one of the most famous skylines in the world.

I am sure they have achieved much more (including the development of various new engines, platforms and the vehicles, that my spy’s at the company elude to!). But to keep the conversation on track, I will only comment about 750.

When asked about competition, I also believe that ROEWE have done NAC a great favor by changing the vehicle enough to ensure that they are as much a competitor, as a VW Passat, an Audi A4 or Honda Prelude. The situation would be very different if they had decided to keep the car as the original – then we would truly have 2 identical vehicles on sale, with only different badges to choose between them, as it it’s - the rear end changes, and the significant interior changes are enough to differentiate between the two cars.





So with this in mind I can judge the quality based upon the vehicle in the market place, and not only as a competitor to the MG7. From a purely aesthetic view of the vehicle I think the 750 certainly has a place on the roads of Shanghai and Beijing, its stately presence stands out from the acres of A4’s, Passats and Buick Regals. The vehicle looks masculine and purposeful, as well as very classy.





The Interior is refined and modern, yes it has lost some of the ‘Britishness’ that made the Rover 75 so great, but I can see what they have done, and I like the results.
Build quality is fair to good, but what amazed me was the fact that they hadn’t resolved some of the original design quality concerns from the Rover 75, the bumper to bonnet to fender and head light fit, the door seals and interior trim fitment concerns, all remain – perhaps as testament to the original vehicle?











After Beijing I wrote a report for the senior management team at NAC MG about the quality of the ROEWE 750, based upon viewing several vehicles at the motor show – I said then, that we didn’t have much to worry about. The show cars, they were appalling.

My guess was that they were rushed into displaying the cars prematurely; rumor has it that SAIC had used their corporation strength to delay the show several months, to the anger of everyone other manufacturer, and under pressure they couldn’t delay any longer.

I had the opportunity to review a newer vehicle last week, and was pleasantly surprised by how much it had improved, yes it still had the original design issues, but at least the company hadnt stood still over the last 9 months, and the car I saw was much better than those in Beijing.



So to summarize, I see the ROEWE 750 as much a competitor as any other vehicle in the same class, and that it isn’t any better or any worse than an MG7 – its just different. Some people will go for the original British interior and exterior styling of the MG7, whereas others will prefer the fashionable exterior and interior changes of the ROEWE 750. The market in China is big enough to find customers for both tastes.



Oh but one thing I have to say before finally closing the book on this discussion – that badge! I am sorry, despite the changes, ‘improvements’ and revisions to the vehicle – I couldn’t live with the badge staring at me from the steering wheel every day. Perhaps a nice Austin or even a ambassador badge to replace it? Something to think about as both NAC and SAIC reportedly head towards a closer working relationship!


Just Added a Poll to the BLOG - Please Vote, I would be interested in your opinions.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Working in China is very different

Working in China is very different from working in the West, an obvious statement you may think - but just how different can it be? I mean apart from the language, we all have similar education levels and the same basic requirements to engage in buying, selling and providing a service. Just how different can it be – well the differences are what you either love or hate about China, its what creates immense frustration in some visitors, and in other’s creates an absolute passion for the place.
I fall between the two, there are times of complete an utter disbelieve as to how decisions are decided, plans are established, or purchases are made. These sit alongside moments of immense satisfaction and enlightenment when issues that would have taken months or even years to gain approval for in the west are decided with a single word from the right person. This is the rollercoaster of China.

Whatever your job or profession, working in China means that you spend a lot of your time travelling, be it by air, train or road – you have to get used to the fact that this is not a country – but a continent in its own right, and you could have literally thousands of miles between your next supplier or customer. One of the key tasks for the new MG owners Nanjing Automotive was to identify, select, develop and approve hundreds of new suppliers, for thousands of parts. As Quality Director I would be involved in the selection, development and most importantly approval of the parts, this would mean a lot of travelling!

During my time travelling around the country, I have visited city’s as big as most country’s in Europe, with dazzling skylines that put the like’s of New York, London or Sydney to shame, all filled with the luxury chain stores more akin to the high streets of Knightsbridge, the boulevards of Paris or the piazza’s of Rome.

This is where the majority of our suppliers are housed in purpose built factories; part owned by major international conglomerates, replicates of similar facilities in the UK, France, Germany & the US. With the latest equipment, production processes and quality controls.

However, on occasion you do get to see the other side of the Chinese supply base. In the villages and towns that seem to have been left behind by the mega-citys of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. Left behind both financially, socially and culturally.
These villages haven’t evolved much since the Cultural Revolution some 30 years ago. Life for the people who live there, hasn't changed at all – they still struggle with providing the basics for their families, food, clean water, an education etc.
People who try to find new work on a daily basis, earning little more than $1 a day, working in Victorian conditions, for Edwardian hours.

Theirs is a very simple life; living in self built houses, most without running water, sanitation, and electricity. Every part of their life echoes the existence of those caught in the industrial revolution in the UK at the turn of the century. Similarities don't end there, Chinese villages also have their fair share of “Mill Owners”, and it never surprises me that with every backwater village and every mud-laden track that leads in and out. If you wait longer enough a gleaming Black 7 series BMW or Audi A6 will trundle on down, carrying the owner of the local factory. The poor are getting richer, but not nearly as fast as the speed that rich are accumulating wealth, and the trappings along with it.

My visit is always met with curiosity rather than animosity. I often wonder if people in other countries would be as accommodating or as accepting of this strange visitor, my experiences of receiving foreigners in the west has often filled me with embarrassment at our lack of hospitality, our ignorance of alien customs, and our complete inability to accept that not everybody in the world speaks English. My presence always tends to distract from the actual purpose of the meeting or visit at first, but once the novelty has worn off the business of lunch isn’t far away! The first thing anyone has to understand is that lunch is the most important aspect of the business deal. Like the presence of the executive saloon, it doesn't matter how remote a factory is – there will always be a fairly decent Chinese restaurant nearby. Even if they have to wake the chef, stoke up the boiler to provide some heat and light, and rummage around the local store for some speciality dish – the meal will absorb an average villagers life savings within the 2 hours it takes to get through 20 or so courses of various animal parts, boiled, stewed and sometimes prepared raw for the visiting party. All of this will be washed down with plenty of Bei Ju (White Spirit) to warm the cold that pierces every exposed inch of flesh, and to hopefully help with the proceeding discussions around cost, delivery and quality.

The actual discussions are normally brief, most of the negotiations have happened behind the scenes and my presence is normally more ceremonial rather than functional. Embarrassment would be immense on both sides of the room if demands from our visiting party could not be guaranteed, or if assurances made that changes and improvements identified, wouldn’t instantly be put in place. This is something that you can certainly fall foul of when undertaking your first visits, our western mentality leaves us with certain expectations regarding workers safety, or evidence of policy’s and procedures for manufacturing, or purchasing. It’s hard to remember that these are factories still dragging themselves into the 20th century, let alone moving out of the 21st century.

Employee safety is an issue that always concerns us foreigners – the thought of Social welfare, adverse publicity, and large compensation bills are always at the front of our minds. Not so in China, when asking factory managers about presses operating without guards or safety equipment, a look of bemusement normally follows. The average compensation for lose of life is around $4000, the increase in productivity is worth the risk to most General Managers in China. This is one point that I have laboured over with many a senior representative of our suppliers – China welcomes foreign help in modernising the country in terms of technology, and thankfully they are quick to listen and react when improvements in safety are demanded as aggressively as demands for improved quality or reduced costs.

Working conditions are next to hit the visitor; most factories are dimly lit, with no heating in the harsh winters and no air-conditioning in the stifling summers. Concrete floors and walls, leaking roofs, and gapping gaps between the rusting steel framed windows. The conditions are grim to say the least, and the workers hustle together at break times to share cheap cigarettes and slurp hot jars of green tea.
An average working day starts at 7 in the morning and finishes when the light becomes too poor to continue.
These aren’t the conditions of some sweathouse churning out poor quality parts to meet the demands of the poor in Asia, as you walk around the facility’s you will find components being made for some of the most famous western brands. The tool shops are strewn with jigs, fixtures and parts heading for Turin, Birmingham, Frankfurt, and even Detroit to name but a few, mixed with these are the relics of what is left of MG-Rover’s legacy Complete with the tool stamps of names from a bygone era. Nanjing not only acquired to assets for building the vehicles, but they also acquired the tooling for at least 50% of the parts. The majority of equipment was shipped to China, and has found itself relocated in these sometimes-isolated factories, far away from the busy suburbs of the cities.
It’s very strange to see tools made by some the historic suppliers to the British automotive history now nestling down with local Chinese lumps of steel – again a country full or irony.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Another month another Country!

Its only July and already this year I have visited over 6 different country’s and dozens of city’s. Including Tokyo once, Hong Kong twice, Beijing 3 times, London 4 times, Shanghai over 10 times and my latest adventure – Kuala Lumpur.


I have to admit to having a passion for architecture, especially tall buildings! Eastern Asia, seam’s to have overtaken the US as the home of the modern skyscraper, and is now home to 8 out of the world’s top 10 tallest buildings.

No.1 Taipei 101 - Taipai, Taiwan
No.2 Petronas Tower No.1 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
No.3 Petronas Tower No.2 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
No.4 Sear Tower - Chigago, USA
No.5 Jin Mao Tower - Shanghai, China
No.6 Two International Finance - Hong Kong
No.7 CITIC Plaza - Guangzhou, China
No.8 Shun Hing Square - Shenzhen, China
No.9 Empire State Building - New York, USA
No.10 Cental Plaza - Hong Kong

I have been fortunate enough this year to visit 7 out of the top 10, and my favourite was always the Jin Mao – maybe because it has a bar at 88 floors up, overlooking one of the most exciting city’s in the world. I will always remember my first time at the top sipping a chilled glass of wine, and watching helicopters circling below!

The Jin Mao tower is the 5th tallest building in the world, standing at over 1380 feet, but is slowly being dwarfed by the latest addition to the Shanghai skyline - the new Shanghai Financial building.

This is being constructed only 20 feet away, and will tower over the Jin Mao by a further 300 feet. the immense building already casts a shadow over the Jin Mao, although in my opinion isnt as pretty!







My latest encounter with a VTB (Very Tall Building - otherwise known as FTB, I will let you work out what the ‘F’ stands for!), was a trip to the Petrona’s Tower’s in KL. The building is famous not only for its appearance in the film Entrapment (Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones), but also for its ‘Sky Bridge’.
This is a viewing platform that stands between the 41st and 42nd floor’s, allowing breath-taking views across KL’s impressive city skyline. I have to admit the building does seem to have been constructed just to be tall!
You have to wonder why someone would go to such extreme lengths and costs to build such a vast structure.
Well I guess the reason why so many of the modern tall buildings are being constructed in Asia, is because they are displays of incredibly ambitious and immensely aggressive economies. I am sure Freud would call them gigantic phallic symbols, statements of a nations desire to be known on the world stage, and show everyone just how important and technically advanced they have become (despite being built by American, British and Japanese Engineering teams!).


It may also be the reason why the US, has all but stopped building them, London has never really been serious (Canary Warf stands at No. 169 in the list!) And other major developed countries of the world have never bothered, these are places that don’t feel a need to prove anything to anyone anymore.
I have to admit that on my journeys through some these Asians hotspots, I am amazed at the advancing infrastructures. Gleaming Airports, high-speed rail networks, 8 lane high ways with automated traffic control and alert systems, sophisticated public transport – under-ground, over-ground, priority lanes, taxi-s running on electric, gas, and even hydrogen. Public High Speed Wifi Zones, 3G Networks, brand new hospitals, schools, hotels and supermarkets. The roads are filled with the latest metal from Germany, Japan and the best the emerging markets can produce. Shops are stuffed with luxury items from Paris, New York and Milan. Visitors could be fooled into thinking they have indeed landed in super rich, super efficient metropolises. The people seem happy, prices are reasonable (cheap by UK standards) and crime is apparently non-existent.

Perhaps all of this is exactly like the skyscrapers, put there to portray a highly advanced society, financial stability, forward thinking and advanced planning ability’s. Whilst just a few blocks around the corner the gap between the rich and the poor widens, public health issues spiral out of control, governments control every aspect of communication, and the prisons numbers are only reduced by the ever increasing number of executions performed daily.

Very few tourists are allowed to venture far from the glitz and glamour, and it probably takes many months, or even years to unearth the real truth behind it all. I guess most of us are happy with our ignorance, and just enjoy the oversized hotel rooms, with breathtaking views and direct air-conditioned walkways to the clinical shopping malls, stuffed with offerings for our hard earned hard currency’s. We have enough doom and gloom at home, and don’t want to be reminded that rape, murder, exploitation, prostitution and burglary’s happen in down town Shanghai as well as in our own leafy suburbs.



The purpose for my visit to Kuala Lumpur? well it was a family compromise – I fit in a little site-seeing and VTB photography, and the family use it as a stop over to Langkawi – a tiny island just off the coast of Malaysia, for some sun, sand, sea and monkey spotting!
(But I did get to spot a Rover 216i Cabriolet while I was there! – that was a poor attempt at keeping the BLOG topical, or should I say 'Tropical')

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Its Over to You......

Feeling lazy this week - must be because I am off on a well-deserved break.

The Plan - A whole week sitting around the pool, relaxing and forgetting all about MG, Nanjing and China - well ok we can all dream!


Reality- Continuous phone calls, emails to answer, running after the kids, rubbing after-sun into my bright red skin, and a week spent on not so luxurious toilet facilities whilst swatting mosquitoes as big as pigeons!

I guess I have not delivered all of the secrets many of my readers have wanted to read? All of this talk about Dragon Boat Races, crazy driving and even crazier journalists - probably hasn’t hit the spot with those of you who want to know where our latest high-powered diesel will be sourced?

So – it’s over to you. Email me your questions, and I will endeavour to answer them.

As soon as I have enough to fill a decent BLOG I will publish it.

The questions can be about MG, Nanjing, China, Dragon Boat Racing, Where to get Guinness in Nanjing, how many degrees the tower in Pisa leans, the heart rate of a butterfly if you like! (I draw the line at questions about Longbridge – sorry!)

Email your questions to paulstowemg@hotmail.com

Don’t worry – I will think of something to write about, between being buried in sand by the kids!

Saturday, 30 June 2007

It must be hard being a journalist in China!

During the last two weeks we have been conducting an exercise called The Quality Tour, yes I know the name sounds naff – it wasn’t my idea or my words, in fact I nearly choked when I heard the proposal by the PR team at NAC MG.
The plan - as it was explained to me, was to ‘invite’ 200 –300 hundred of China’s journalists, to a day devoted to explaining how we control quality on the new range of vehicles produced in Nanjing.
“Wow” I can here you shouting, and “why weren't we invited?”, ok I guess none of you said that either! I agree, even to someone who has devoted most of his working life to the field of automotive quality, I wouldn’t exactly be running towards that type of event either!
The day would involve a trip to the Museum and Gardens tourist attraction, sorry I mean the MG factory tour, followed by lunch, and then a series of speeches, one from the brand manager, one from yours truly, one from whichever senior manager was available that day, and finally a banquet on the evening. In all we would conduct 3 events across the 2 weeks.

I guess I should explain why some of us are now calling the factory the Museum and Gardens tourist attraction (Rather than the MG Factory), well you see ever since 27th March, we have been entertaining visitors to the factory by the bus load. Every day more and more visitors come. In the beginning it was the expected rush of local, provincial and national politicians, then the suppliers, then the group employee’s both working and retired. But this continued month after month. (I wont mention the visitors from SAIC - oh just did!)
It was only until I bumped into a couple of westerners last week, that I found out why we are still receiving so many visitors. The couple, Hank and Rose from New Jersey - were on a tour of China, before settling down in blue rinse Florida, they were way overweight, badly dressed, loaded with high tech. Camera gadgetry, and sweating like, well like overweight, badly dressed Westerners!
I couldn’t understand why they were visiting a factory in what is a not so nice part of Nanjing. Pukou is very hot, very humid, dusty and well off the beaten track. Expecting them to be a couple of avid MG enthusiasts, they shocked me when they told me that the factory tour was on a list of “Things to do in Nanjing”, given to them by the local tourist board! It seems now every hotel, tourist office, tour Bus Company and tour operator in the area, was touting us as the latest 'must see' venue – hence our not so subtle name change!


Back to the event.
When the request was made for me to do the speech – I couldn’t for the life of me understand why any journalist would want to come and listen to some boring old foreigner telling them about six sigma, CMM machines, vehicle validation, and inspection criteria, let alone listen to someone spell out that the company was started by William Morris, and Cecil Kimber for the 50th time.

My memory jumped back to the slating we received off some of the press at the opening of Longbridge, when we dared not to inform everyone of launch dates, dealer locations and vehicle prices. At least then we had a good enough reason to invite them (despite what some may think, the re-opening of the factory that had been the heart of the British Motoring Industry for over 100 years was pretty significant!).
I dared to ask if we would be announcing prices, launch dates, even giving them an insight into future product plans – a short shake of the head, indicated that this was purely an exercise in keeping the company in the press. I guess the media in any other country would have simply refused to spend several days of planning and attendance, not to mention the several hundred (and in some cases thousands) of kilometers away from there homes, just to report the ramblings of a strange looking and sounding foreigner.
However they all turned up, and even looked interested as they toured the factory for the second time in 3 months, although I have to admit that by the time it came to my speech the majority of the crowd were fast asleep, it’s a bit of an anti-climax to a weeks worth of preparation and a dash of nerves before speaking, only to see your audience catching fly’s and snoring loudly!
We had a couple of different people give the closing speech, but the one I have to admit to being blown away by, was Zhang Xin’s. He is an admirable performer in front of a crowd, an enigmatic figure who never uses notes or a script – this would be the strangest moment in front of a nations media I would ever see.
The day had gone as normal, tour, lunch, boring speeches, snoring and then Zhang Xin got up. The music started – not your normal rousing Chinese anthem, but a Michael Bolton classic, he grabbed the microphone and stood up on the stage – I peered threw the fingers of my hand, that was by now covering my face in embarrassment, I expected him to burst into the chorus of “Time Love and Tenderness”. Thankfully he refrained from singing, and proceeded to take the press through the holiday snaps of his recent visit to the UK. The press lapped it up, loving every Scottish castle, Cotswold pub and embarrassing jumper he wore. I would have thought his plan was political and professional suicide; surely the reports would have ripped him apart, destroyed him as being a complete egomaniac or disillusioned fool.
However all I knew about Chinese PR and how to deal with journalists mustn’t worth a bean; the following days reports were about how he was a gentle man, who may have been misread by the press as a hard nose dictatorial leader. How he had really absorbed the essence of what it means to be British and how it was obvious that the MG project was not just another motoring job, but one that was his passion and his life.
I can’t imagine how it would have all gone down in the West, but somehow I couldn’t see Wolfgang Reitzle, Alan Mulally or even Rick Wagoner doing such a thing (Let alone Kevin Howe!). But then one element I had neglected to include, was the fact that the press was all paid handsomely to be there in the first place – I would never suggest that this was the reason for the style of reporting, or even that it influenced the acres of newspaper lineage that followed – but it does beg the question as to the Chinese press’s neutrality when it comes to reporting.


By the way this isn’t unusual – members of the Chinese press are paid for every engagement they are invited to – in fact they wouldn’t get out of bed without their hong bao.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Did MG put Nanjing on the Map?

I am sure that I will receive a barrage of complaints for even suggesting that a defunct British motor company could be responsible for raising such an important Chinese city’s profile – but you have to ask the question – how many people in the UK (I will stick to the UK as I cant answer the rest of the western hemisphere) had ever heard of Nanjing before MG moved here?

I have had this conversation with many people, from various countries, different religions and social backgrounds, and It seems clear that although few will admit to never having heard of Nanjing before; they all agree that MG has certainly raised the city’s profile over the last 12-18 months.
I even dared to suggest this scenario to a reporter for the local English magazine in Nanjing called ‘MAP’, I felt that the play on words would provide a great headline, and an interesting story for locals to debate “MG puts Nanjing on the MAP?” my ears are still ringing from the torrent of abuse she hurled at me for even thinking such a thing.
In my defense I can only put my ignorance down to a poor upbringing, and an even poorer education system, if only I had worked harder at school, widened my understanding of Chinese history, and maybe read a little more – I wouldn’t fall into the bracket of an ‘ill educated, small minded buffoon” as suggested by the same reporter!

So I guess if they wont report the story, then at least I can pose the question to those of you who read my BLOG.
From the people I have spoken to (excluding any Chinese friends) the main split seems to be those who consider themselves ‘intellectuals’ these have had a classical upbringing, and of course recognized Nanjing for its Chinese political, social and historical importance over the past 2500 years. Then there are those (including myself) who may have heard something about the atrocities suffered by the people of Nanjing during the Japanese invasion of 1937, although I have to admit that I only knew of this due to a previous trip to Shanghai, when I asked the question why a group of Chinese Students were jumping up and down on a Toyota Camry!
And finally the group of people who had unfortunately never heard of the city before Nanjing’s involvement in the purchase of MG-Rover’s assets?

So to put the record straight I wanted to give you a potted history of Nanjing, and perhaps let a few people know why the reporter looked at me as if I had just had a double lobotomy!

The history of Nanjing (and China for that matter) goes back a very long way! In fact fossils of Homo sapiens have been found in the eastern suburbs of Nanjing that date back to the mid-Pleistocene period, some 350,000 years ago, and it is thought to be the home of some of the earliest inhabitant on Earth!
One of the reasons we may not have heard of Nanjing, maybe be because it has been called by various names in the past, including: Jinling, Jianye, Jiankang, Jiangning and Tianjing. Its current name Nanjing means South Capital – and as the name suggests – it has been the capital city during some of the most significant periods in China’s history.
It first became a city around 472 B.C. under the supervision of Minister Fan Li, and in A.D. 229 Emperor Sun Quan of the Wu Kingdom made Nanjing his Capital. It reigned as capital city during Eastern Jin, Song, Qi, Liang and Chen Dynasties from 317 – 589 A.D. earning the city its fame as the “ancient capital of six dynasties”.

Following this, Nanjing once again became the political center of China in 1368 when Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty, he also spent 21 years building the 33.65 kilometer wall that surround the ancient city limits, and created what was the largest city in the world at that time.

Nanjing’s most important modern era was when Dr. Sun Yat-Sen established the Republic of China, and made it the capital city in 1928. Although the next decade would see a very turbulent part of Nanjing’s history that was defined by the Japanese invasion in 1937, and the subsequent massacre of c300, 000 innocent Nanjing inhabitants over a 6 week period.
The capital city changed hands a couple of times during the War, with Nanjing again becoming the capital as late as 1945 to 1949. Following this, Beijing regained the capital city status during the commencement of the Peoples Republic of China, and leaving Nanjing as the capital of Jiangsu province.

Nanjing is now known as a special tourist attraction for most of China, and the local population swells during the national holidays. The most visited areas are based around the purple mountain, and include the impressive mausoleums of Emperor Sun Quan, Zhu Yuanzhang and Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the remains of the great wall that surrounded the city, the memorial to those that died during the Japanese massacre and countless historical gardens and houses. Stand on the top floor of the Nanjing Train Station in the early evening, and the view is amazing, to your left is the imposing Purple Mountain, directly in front the fading sunlight reflects off the enormous Xuanwu Lake onto the rising skyline of a booming city.

I guess I shouldn’t really be debating how influential the purchase of the MG brand has been to the profile of Nanjing, even if it has – is this such a bad thing? If a positive episode in a city’s history enlightens more people to that history and culture then this must surely be good? Even if it has inspired just one person to Google Nanjing or borrow a book from the local library, then that can only be seen as positive. Don’t get me wrong I am in no way suggesting that this is an important milestone In the history of the city, all I am suggesting is that this has enabled a few more people to become aware of this wonderful and colorful Eastern Chinese capital.

Maybe those that are least sensitive to this issue, are those in the local government, speaking with the many representatives I have met at various functions, they all express just how important this has been to the development of the area, and the knock on effect it is, and will continue to have in terms of both commercial and tourism activities.I remember doing a live interview with BBC World Service, about the MG Project, and as I put the headphones on to hear the interviewer – they said to me, “don’t worry there are only 120million people listening!” – maybe that 53 million pounds looks like a pretty good investment after all?

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Dragon Boat Race Pictures

Just thought I would add some photo's from our latest (well ok first!) victory!
The MG Drummers!
Flying the Flag.

Heads Down Chaps.


So Close!

Fighting to touch the trophy!


The celebrations!