The big problem was that there was no time to build new cars for the show. It may shock some people, but the cars for a show are normally prepared 3-6 months before, with hand picked parts, they are assembled down special facilities, painted and re-painted several times, and basically given the ‘supermodel’ airbrush treatment.
After various meetings we agreed on a plan, and squeezed the show layout and vehicle designation plan from the Sales and Marketing team. Like always, marketing had some grand ideas of hanging vehicles upside down using sky hooks! We finally agreed on the vehicle selection. The biggest challenge was that they wanted one of the vehicles – an MGTF to be raised onto a glass bridge, which the public could walk underneath. Now I don’t know how many people had been unfortunate enough to see the underside of a vehicle – but it’s not a pretty sight. This is where with the right amount of advance planning; we would have ensured the underside of the car was treated as an A’ class surface, and not built to withstand the normal abuse of driving 100,000km’s in wind, snow, ice, stones, and salt! It was it was a mess of anti-corrosion protection. We had to drain the entire cars fluids, strip every pipe, tube, hose, cable, rod and linkage away, clean the entire surface down and re-spray the vehicle. Whilst the result wasn’t perfect, it was far better than I had expected when I saw the car on the ramp for the first time.
I had been asked to give a speech at our press conference to open the show, a daunting prospect. Especially as it would be in front of an audience full of motoring journalists, and a sea of automotive royalty from around the world. I remember how impressed I was whilst listening to Ian Robertson’s speech at the Beijing Show last year. Ian was my first MD, when I started out at Land Rover many years earlier; you might say he gave me my first break! Ian was one of those people who made you sit up straight when he walked in to the room; he had an aura of power and control around him. I went to speak to him in Beijing, and remember babbling away nervously! Not something that usually affects me – but I felt like I was talking to an old headmaster, despite Ian remembering me – I’m sure our encounter didn’t raise my prospects of a position with Roll’s Royce anytime in the near future!
I visited the stand on the evening before the opening, and was informed by Mr Yu, that they wanted me to translate his speech the next day, I was given several thousand words and a few hours to decipher the ‘Chinglish’ document. On top of this I was still required to drive the main car onto the turntable at the center of the stand. The car itself was a Long Wheel Base MG7, hidden behind a frosted glass wall, it would rotate 90 degree’s to reveal the car, I would then drive just 20 feet or so, onto the main stage turntable – well at least that was the plan!
A restless evening preceded the great day, and I finished the speech at the 6am breakfast buffet. Everything was set, the lights the PA system, the video screens, even the cars looked fantastic. We had prime position in Hall 4, nestled between Roll’s Royce, BMW and Lexus and Toyota. Our stand was larger than the R&R and Lexus stands, and looked much more vibrant than the rest. NAC MG would hold the first Press conference of the day – so an audience was guaranteed.
A nervous couple of hours followed, and the show began. The usual funky electric violin concerto by sexy Chinese violinists, a very strange display of dancing by people dressed in Charles 1st regalia - bizarre was an understatement. Then the speech’s! First Me and the company’s president would do a double act, the ‘same’ speech in Chinese and English, I had done the best I could with translating the speech, but even my talents couldn’t extend into making it earth shattering.
The rest of the show went without a hitch, and the stand remained full for the entire day.
Which was more than can be said for the other stands, for an opening day the whole show seemed a little bit quiet, maybe this was something to do with the Beijing show being held just 6 months before. Several UK journalists told me that in there editors had had there fill of Chinese car news, since the coverage of our launch back in March, whatever the reason we were glad to see the other stands struggling whilst ours attracted an enormous amount of attention.