Monday, 7 May 2007

The Big Boys are in Town!

(This Blog was written a couple of weeks ago, but due to being stuck in deapest darkest China, without an internet connection, I have only just had time to release it - look out for many new updates this week)

If I thought the press conference was stressful, the next day was going to be worse. It had been arranged for some of the most powerful automotive media to visit our new factory in Nanjing. (In no particular order) we had Ken Gibson (The Sun), Jason Barlow (Top Gear Magazine), Andrew English (The Telegraph) and the daddy of them all Steve Cropley (Autocar). I have to say I wasn’t keen to host the day, I had my fill of the media on the days up to and including the 27th March, however our PR agency thought that this was essential for building up a relationship with the UK’s most important media – especially with the UK launch only around the corner.
I met the journalists and there photographer at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong, Shanghai. The hotel sits at the top of the Jin Mao tower – the worlds 4th tallest building, and the world’s highest hotel. They had been there as guests of BMW, and had attended the Shanghai Auto Show the day before. BMW had kindly allowed us to piggyback onto their schedule, which enabled us to entertain them for 1 day. Unfortunately my expense account didn’t quite match BMW’s, and I would have to rely on personality and content rather than gloss! We jumped on to the early morning express that now joins Shanghai and Nanjing (300km’s in 2 hours), and on arrival at Nanjing Station we were met by a brand new MG7, and an imported Rover 75, I quickly grabbed the keys to the MG7, and led the 2 car convey across to the factory in Pukou.







I had been given strict instructions not to let them drive the vehicles, even close up photography was forbidden – how the hell was I going to convince the cream of the British motoring press, that after traveling half way around the world that they would not be able to drive or photograph the cars they had come to see? I decided that I would take the responsibility for any bad press we received. I knew my job was on the line if the reports were bad, but I also knew that these guys’s were professional, and that they would forgive maybe less than perfect cars – seeing as these were pre-production prototypes, being used for test and development rather than public consumption. A big gamble!
The factory, and our progress stunned them. My personal objective was to convince them that NAC was ‘playing’ at this. That this was a serious attempt at resurrecting a famous British brand, and our plans extended beyond the legacy of vehicles MG-Rover had left behind. The shear size of the factory, the amount of investment, and the evidence of our expansion plans being implemented – even before we have sold a single car, all went some way to convince them that we were definitely serious about MG’s future!
It was a Saturday and the plant was quiet, we were going through our pre-production preparation, and building cars in small batch’s, only increasing production levels in line with improvements in Quality levels. I desperately wanted to silence all of those doubters who have suggested they we haven’t built any of our own vehicles yet – and that we have just been ‘dressing’ up some old imports from the UK. I feared that the quiet factory would throw fuel onto the fire. Luckily both the engine and body assembly factory were running overtime. The media, witnessed both new engines being machined and assembled, as well as various MG7 body parts being welded by the automated welding line. It wasn’t full production, but at least it independently showed everyone that we were in fact making Chinese MG7’s and MGTF’s.
I spent 13 hours with some of the hardest automotive journalists in the world, they quizzed me on every aspect of the business, and maybe naively I answered as much as I could. As a company we have nothing to hide, but we had been criticized for poor communication in the past. Which has been more to do with a difference in cultures and language, rather than any underlying secrecy. I hoped that by opening our doors (and my mouth) we could go someway to ensuring both NAC MG and NAC UK get a fair crack at the whip. Completely exhausted both mentally and physically, I made my way back to Shanghai accompanying our guests back to their palace in the sky!
They seemed genuinely impressed with the visit, however I found myself having several sleepless nights, not knowing exactly how they felt – would they be positive? Would they be negative? Was my extraordinary life in Nanjing about to come to a crashing end?
It wasn’t long before the silence broke, and the first of the journalists wrote about their journey. Mr Cropley was the first to put pen to paper (or at least push the buttons on a computer!).

“Like an MG Rover, only better-madeThe tussle over the MG Rover clones is something that could only happen in China. Nanjing Automotive, winner of the bidding war to acquire the worn-out Longbridge company and its site, showed three MGs — the MG7 (a Rover 75) in long and short-wheelbase forms, the MG5 (a Rover 45 clone) and the MGTF sports roadster. All looked as capable and well built as anything to come from a British factory. Quality director Paul Stowe — a cheery, seen-it-all veteran employed in the Longbridge cause by MG Rover, BMW, the Rover administrators, SAIC (the failed, preferred bidder) and now Nanjing Automotive — confirmed that the quality was indeed high. The Chinese knew bad quality threatened their investment, he said, and that couldn’t be allowed to happen. These were not lashed-up cars in any sense. They were recreated Rovers and MGs in the same spec and restrained colours. What raised a smirk on both stands was the keen but na├»ve attempts of the Chinese to commemorate the British culture which created these cars, and which they obviously seem to love. For a moment, these things had a charade look about them — until your eye fell back on the cars themselves: well-built, nicely painted, coloured and trimmed with restrain, and, yes, desirable.”
(Quote: http://www.autocar.co.uk/News/NewsArticle/AllCars/225315/)
This led to my first good nights sleep in a long while, not so sure on being described as a veteran, a sign that China is taking its toll maybe? But I couldn’t be happier about his article. Back to the sleepless nights again now – waiting to see what Jason, Ken and Andrew write!!!

4 comments:

Eleanor Pritchard said...

Hi Paul

My name is Eleanor Pritchard and I work for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (formerly the IEE) in the UK and I will be visting Nanjing in July and would very much like to ask your opinion on some points. Perhaps you could email me? My address is epritchard@theiet.org
I hope to hear from you.

Eleanor

Anonymous said...

Paul,

Please take a look at:- www.fia.com/automotive/issue5/home_page.html It shows an article of mine sandwiched between two by Max Mosley. The article is now over six months old, and further progress has been made, outlined in articles of mine in the April and May editions of Racecar Engineering. If you send me your e-mail adress, I'll send you electronic copies of both editions. The relevance to MG is the original plan four years ago was that the first road car to feature KERS would be an MG ZT. If Nanjing AC is still interested, please e-mail me at:- chris.ellis@hykinesys.com

Regards,

Chris Ellis

Jack Yan said...

Welcome back to Shanghai, Paul. You did the right thing: as a magazine owner, it sounded like you gave the visiting media exactly what they wanted. Cropley is usually quite gentlemanly in Autocar; I, too, await what the others say. But from the sounds of it, you impressed the socks off them.

Jack Yan said...

PS.: Paul, the very fact you have this blog shows your willingness to have transparency, and counters earlier criticism about poor communication. It is a vital part of modern corporate communication, and I hope NAC continues to let you write in it. I would not even mind seeing links from the official site to here (as I stated in late April).