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!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Ford - 0 MG - 1

It promised to be a fantastic day. Saturday 26th June marked a day of celebration for Nanjing, this was the day of the 7th Annual Sheraton Dragon Boat Race on Mouchu Lake, Nanjing. 32 teams from in and around Nanjing had entered, some of the most famous ones were Dyson, BASF, The Sheraton Hotel, A O Smith, Sunlife Insurers, DHL, Honeywell, AIG, 3 Teams from Ford, the 4 times holders of the cup Carrefour and of course MG!

I captained the MG team and regained my position of ‘First Oar’, we had been training for the last couple of months, and since our previous defeat in ChangZhou we had reverted to the original team – the team that got us to 4th place in last years competition. My fellow English men, Bob and John joined me in the race, and we had the great camaraderie back, with MG chanting and a recital of “Row, Row, Row your boat, gently down the stream” after we finished our training sessions.

The sun was shining and a gentle breeze kept the temperature down to a manageable 30 degrees – cool for this time of the year. Thousands lined the banks of the lake, and the show opened with a display from each team, most chose to win the crowd by getting a bunch of young girls in very short skirts to perform a cheerleading dance, we however chose to do something more traditional and had the MG drummers perform. After the opening ceremony the drummers joined our fans on the side of the lake, and would bang as loud as possible as we passed in our boat – a great boost of encouragement during the last half of the race.

In the first round we were drawn against the 4 times champions Carrefour, they were this years favorites again. We knew all we had to do was keep up with them, the competition was a timed event so it wasn’t just good enough to beat the others in your heat, you were racing the other 31 teams for a place in the semi finals (only 12 went through to the next round). As predicted Carrefour beat us – but only by 1 tenth of a second! We had to wait until the last 8 teams finished to know if we would go through to the semis. The times came out and we were in the next round, qualifying 6th fastest.

The semis would also be timed, and we were drawn against Carrefour again! Our game plan was the same – keep up the champions!
Also in our heat was Ford, privately I desperately wanted to beat them. The Goliath that is Ford Vs the David of MG.
My dreams came true and we beat Ford, not only that but we beat Carrefour as well – albeit by the same 1 tenth of a second they had beat us by in the previous race! We still had to wait until the other semi’s had finished before we knew if we had made the finals – it was a tense and nerve wracking 30 minutes before the news came through – we had done it, the roar from our team was joined by the drums, and just in case any one from the neighboring provinces hadn’t heard the news – our shouting certainly woke everyone up.

The three finalists would be us, The Nanjing Sheraton who had recorded the fastest time all day (by 5 seconds!), and our old enemy Carrefour! In our hearts we had already won – we had hoped for a top ten position, to be guaranteed at least 3rd was incredible. The nerves were shot as we prepared for the final; we had a group hug and a rousing speech to inspire once more.

As we paddled out to the starting area I noticed my son on the bank nearest us – I waved my oar at him and he gave me a thumbs up, this was all I needed to lift my spirits. We started off fantastically and by half way were a 3rd of a boat in the lead, however Carrefour were catching up fast, as we were exhausted towards the end of the race, with each stroke they got closer, and closer. We stuck our heads down and dug deep into our reserves making a last dash for the finish line – I didn’t know the result, for me it was too close to call – then I turned and looked at the Carrefour team, they were enraged, throwing their oars into the lake, it was then I had realized the impossible had become fact. I stood up in the boat to congratulate my team. We had won the biggest Dragon boat contest in Nanjing, fairly and squarely beating 31 other teams to the first place position – the celebration were incredible and continued on into the night – this was a day I would always remember.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Taxi anyone?

The first thing you must understand is that very few westerners drive in China. There are a good number of reasons for this, some obvious and some – not so obvious.

The obvious ones are easy for any visitor to see on arrival - the general lack of driver discipline, the complete disregard for any legal system, and the visitors inability to read the road signs, all add together to form a fairly compelling case against driving here.

Then there are as many un-obvious reasons that go against any desire to venture out onto the open road? The difficulty in obtaining a local license, the complicated insurance system, the lack of a vehicle rental service, and even the ability to fuel the vehicle can be extremely difficult in a country where you don’t speak the language or understand the local customs. It all adds up to being something that most foreigners decide that they would rather not delve into.

I believe is what the Chinese prefer. It keeps us strange foreigners off the road, promotes a very healthy Taxi, public transport and in particular - a lucrative chauffeurs service.
The majority (80%+) of ex-patriot inhabitants of China indulge in the services of a chauffeur driven vehicle. Usually a large 7-seat people carrier, complete with DVD players in the headrests, blackout windows and multi-zone air-conditioning. Top of the picks is the Buick GLB, in any colour you like, as long as its dark blue!

They provide everything from the school run, to ensuring the busy joint venture executive gets to his next lunch, or dinner appointment, but most Importantly they provide the lady of the household the transport she need’s to enjoy her spa morning’s, banquet lunch’s, margarita afternoons, and of course the obligatory shopping day’s.

In a country where labour is so cheap, the use of hired help becomes normal, rather than just the indulgence of the rich and famous. Drivers, maids, gardeners even personal coaches are written into most people’s contracts. Like some lost forgotten British colony, China still pampers to those who, well wish to be pampered.

For my family and me life is quite different, I wasn’t working for some enormous International conglomerate whose annual budget for a foreign worker would be circa $500k per annum. I was working for a state owned company who paid its workers an average of $6 - $10k a year, add to this a desire to add a sense of independence into our controlled lives – it was clear that I would have to go through the pains of obtaining the right documentation and permissions in order to drive myself in China.
The story of how I actually gained my driving license is worth a chapter of its own, but for now lets just say I skimmed the edges of a few rules. Fortunately working for an automotive company helped when it came to finding a vehicle, however nothing could have helped me with actually driving here!

I could detail evidence from a years worth of driving on some of the worlds most dangerous roads, how I have encountered incredibly crazy and stupid maneuvers, list facts and figures issued by the World Health Organization showing just how many people die, here on the roads each year, and go into specifics of how to handle the unscrupulous forces that manage the roads. But again these findings are probably something best left, well until I have left (China).

What I have done, is listed the Top 10 of regular 'irritations' encountered on the roads around Nanjing (and anywhere else in China for that matter!)
In no particular order:

· 10% of Drivers Reversing against the flow of traffic – this can be seen particularly where drivers have missed the exit on a highway, and have to reverse against the oncoming traffic - traveling at over 100kph.

· 20% of drivers have held a license for less than 3 years, resulting in daily encounters with unsure, wary and inexperienced newcomers to this very aggressive environment.

· 30% of car’s and trucks driving without or obscured number plates – Yes I know I’m a fine one to talk!

· 40% of Motorists who completely ignore any of the road traffic laws, including traffic lights, parking rules, speed limits, road signs and warnings – and most of all, any kind of road manners.

· 50% of vehicles exceeding the speed limit – and the other 50% crawling along at half the speed limit in the fast lane of the highway – not sure which is the more dangerous, but you can guess which one causes more accidents in China!

· 60% of drivers like to occupy two lanes of any highway – straddling the white lines allows them to choose the clearest route if they find slower vehicles on their journey. Apparantly this is similar to the nations goverment policy - dodging between left and right, picking the most suitable at any point in time - but never commiting to one or the other!

· 70% of vehicles with the occupants not wearing seatbelts – made worse by the fact that you see dozens of children sitting on there parents laps – even when they are driving!

· 80% of motorists who never use indicators, door mirrors or rear view mirrors, they also like to drift from lane to lane without any warning.

· 90% of drivers, using their full beam headlights on permanently during the evening. Blinding the oncoming drivers and anyone who is unfortunate to be in front – oh and the other 10% drive with no lights at all – particularly Buses!

· 100% of Trucks overloaded, by both weight and by the pure volume of goods being transported. This is the biggest danger to all drivers on Chinese roads; they drive with at least twice the recommended weight on board, for hours that would scare the authorities in Europe! You regularly have to swerve to avoid spilled goods off trucks with enormous payloads, and every time you stop at a crossing you pray that the truck thundering towards your stationary car – still has the breaking performance to stop.

After all of that, its no wonder that I see at least one accident every day, admittedly the appalling traffic in the city, limits this to mostly slow speed ‘scratch’s’ – but out on the highway this results in some rather dramatic statistics - On average12 people die on the roads every hour, of every day. If you add to this the fact that 1 person every minute is seriously injured by motoring accidents it all amounts to a rather powerful argument against wanting to drive, and why maybe it is a good idea to hang up my MG7 keys and climb into the back of a trusty old Buick!
(By the way I have had a few comments about my poor grammar, and the lack of photos in my BLOGS - whilst I can improve the picture count - It will take a while to perfect the grammar!)

Friday, 8 June 2007

It's all Chinese to me!

Arnaud : Aujourd’hui a été une grande journée pour MG avec la réouverture officielle de l’usine de Longbridge. C’est un pas important pour le retour de la marque MG en Europe. Pour célébrer cet événement, nous avons l’opportunité d’interviewer directement Paul Stowe, qui travaille directement chez la Nanjing Automotive Corporation (NAC), le nouveau propriétaire de la marque octogonale.

Paul, tout d’abord pourriez-vous vous présenter pour celles et ceux qui ne vous connaissent pas ?

Paul : Mon nom est Paul Stowe, je suis le directeur de la qualité pour « Nanjing MG Automobile Company », et je suis localisé au siège de la compagnie à Nanjing, Chine.

Arnaud : Aujourd’hui nous avons vu des voitures de préproduction sortir de l’usine de Longbridge. Il y a eu beaucoup de spéculation sur quels modèles y seraient assemblés. Les MG7, MG3 et autres voitures seront-elles assemblées à Longbridge également ?

Paul : Le discours du président de la NAC a été très clair sur ce sujet : si nous observons une réponse positive du marché à la relance de la marque MG en Europe, et pour les véhicules construits à Longbridge, alors nous ALLONS introduire de nouveaux produits à Longbridge. L’usine a une capacité pour peindre plus de 130 000 voitures par an, et une capacité d’assemblage de 80 000 unités par an – nous sommes très enclin à utiliser cette capacité dès que possible.

Arnaud : A ma connaissance c’est la première fois que NAC entre sur le marché Européen, NAC qui cela dit en passant est le plus ancien constructeur automobile Chinois. Pénétrer le marché au travers d’un marché de niche comme celui de la TF paraît curieux. Y a t-il des raisons pour lesquelles la MG 7 ne pouvait pas être offerte avant la TF sur le marché Européen ?

Paul : Comme vous l’avez dit, la MG TF est un produit de niche et ainsi peut être vendu par des distributeurs spécialisés. La MG 7 est un produit de masse et demande une stratégie de vente très différente, incluant un réseau plus complexe de distribution et de services. Nous avons à construire notre réseau de distribution et de service en Europe à partir de zéro. Nous avons choisi de faire cela à partir de la MG TF en nombre limité, pour s‘assurer que nous pourrons fournir le meilleur service possible aux clients. Avec le développement et la croissance du réseau suivra le développement des produits.

Arnaud : A quand les premières TF vendues en Europe continentale, en en particulier en France ?

Paul : On peut s’attendre à voir les premières TF vendues en Europe durant le second semestre 2008.

Arnaud : La “nouvelle TF” qui a été présentée aujourd’hui arborait une nouvelle face avant. Les premiers commentaires sur notre forum à propos de cette nouvelle face sont assez positifs. La version finale de la voiture qui sera introduite en Europe gardera t’elle ce nouveau avant et il y a t-il des changements par rapport à la TF de 2005 dont vous pourriez déjà nous parler ?

Paul : Je ne peux pas commenter sur des changements spécifiques au véhicule, cependant nous pensons que la voiture entrant sur le marché Européen aura des améliorations significatives tant sur le plan du style que sur le plan technique, par rapport aux précédentes MG TF construites par MG Rover. Vous avez pu remarquer un aperçu de certain de ces changements durant la cérémonie d’inauguration de Longbridge, mais les changements sont plus que cosmétiques, nous avons examiné la mécanique de chaque partie/pièce du véhicule, et nous pensons que la nouvelle MG TF sera construite sur des standards plus élevés que les incarnations précédentes.

Arnaud : garderez-vous la dénomination “TF” pour le roadster ?

Paul : oui

Arnaud : Il y aura-t-il une version Coupé de la TF pour l’Europe et si oui quand ?

Paul : Comme Mr Yu l’a confirmé, le Coupe fait réellement partie de nos futurs plans. Quand reste encore à être confirmé , mais je peux confirmer que ce sera plus tôt que tard !

Arnaud : Quelles motorisations seront disponibles pour la TF sur le marché Européen ?

Paul : Nous nous concentrons actuellement sur le moteur série 1.8 N, de 135cv. C’est une version bien améliorée du moteur original, et dispose d’une fiabilité elle aussi bien améliorée, le tout conforme aux normes EU4.

Arnaud : Avec les nouvelles limitations concernant les émissions de CO2, ces moteurs se sont-ils pas déjà dépassés ? Les concurrents investissent énormément pour produire des nouveaux moteurs high tech polluant moins. Est-ce que NAC fera des partenariats avec d’autres constructeurs comme Toyota afin d’offrir des moteurs plus modernes sur les MGs ?

Paul : Dans le cadre de notre plan produit, nous avons un programme motorisation très développé, qui inclue divers développements afin d’assurer que nous sommes compétitifs sur tous les marchés. Nous avons réalisé d’important investissements dans ce projet, pas seulement pour les 2 prochaines années – mais pour le long terme, c’est pourquoi nous comptons développer des véhicules et des moteurs qui permettront d’asseoir NAC MG sur le long terme. Nous travaillons avec plusieurs partenaires pour nous aider à développer les futures motorisations afin de répondre aux toutes dernières réglementations sur tous les marchés.

Arnaud : Comme vous le savez beaucoup se posent des questions sur la qualité des voitures fabriquées en Chine. Beaucoup déjà dans le passé ont choisi de ne pas acheter de MG TF à cause de la fameuse rupture du joint de culasse que pas mal de propriétaires ont connu. Pouvez-vous nous réassurer sur ce sujet et nous parler de changements technique sur les moteurs de série K et le système de refroidissement ?

Paul : Comme je l’ai déjà mentionné la motorisation sur cette MG TF révisée est plus fiable, en fait nous avons couvert plus de 1 million de km de tests sous tous les climats, sur tous les terrains et dans tous les scénarios de conduite. Les principaux changements incluent un tout nouveau joint de culasse, incorporant un joint métallique multi couche en remplacement du joint original en plastique, un « ladder frame » réenforcé (Arnaud : je ne suis pas sûr de la traduction de ladder frame),et l’installation d’un système de thermostat pour libérer la pression.

Arnaud : Quel pourcentrage de la production des MG TF sera pour le marché Chinois ? Y a-t-il vraiment un marché du cabriolet en Chine si on considère des facteurs comme la pollution en zone urbaine, le sable et la poussière dans certaines régions, et l’infrastructure routière médiocre en dehors des zones urbaines ?

Paul : Nous avons une seconde ligne de production basée à Nanjing pour la production de MGTF, et une importante proportion des véhicules qui y seront produits seront vendus en Chine. Vous avez assez raison sur le fait qu’il n’y a qu’un petit marché pour les cabriolets en Chine, seulement c’est une économie en croissance avec une société plus riche – les consommateurs implorent de trouver quelque chose d’un peu différent que la norme. Nous espérons répondre à cette demande, et peut-être même créer une demande ! Je conduit une MG TF dans les rues de Nanjing depuis quelques semaines et les réactions sont formidables – il m’a même été offert des sommes d’argent importantes pour avoir la voiture, « but desperate would-be owners on more than one occasion! » (Arnaud : pas sûr de la traduction exacte).

Arnaud : Au delà de la MG TF qu’est-il prévu pour les MG 7, MG 5, MG 3 et les futures autres modèles MG pour le marché Européen ?

Paul : Nous discutons actuellement avec divers importateurs d’Europe continentale des produits que nous croyons pouvoir vendre en Europe, ceci avec notre plan produit nous aidera à développer nos véhicules et notre stratégie de vente pour l’Europe. Ces marchés sont clés pour NAC MG, ils sont au centre de notre développement produit, des ventes et bien sûr de nos objectifs qualitatifs. Nous avons un plan d’export très établi pour MG, et vendre des voitures en Europe continentale et un de nos objectifs clés.

Arnaud : Est-ce que NAC MG a déjà contacté des distributeurs en France, Belgique et autres pays d’Europe continentale ?

Paul : Cela a été un processus de communication en 2 sens, nous avons parlé à plusieurs parties intéressées et les discussions progressent très bien. Plusieurs des parties intéressées nous ont rejoins à l’inauguration à Nanjing, ainsi qu’à Longbridge plus récemment.

Arnaud : Est-ce que les pièces spécifiques aux anciennes MG F/TF seront disponibles directement via NAC ? est-ce que NAC recommencera la production de ces pièces ?

Paul : Nous avons travaillé étroitement avec X-Part pour s’assurer que nous pouvons fournir des pieces pour les modèles précédemment produits, ce qui inclue la MG F et la MG TF, en fait nous avons fourni des panneaux de carrosserie depuis plus d’un an, et continuellement nous étendons notre gamme de service pièces détachées selon les demandes du client.

Arnaud : Les personnes de moins de 30-40 ans en France souvent ne connaissent pas la marquee MG, et ceux connaissent ont tendance à penser que c’est sympa mais pas fiable. Est-ce qu’une communication spécifique pour les autres pays a-t-elle déjà été élaborée ? est-ce que vous prévoyez de l’évènementiel pour la France, la Belgique, etc… ?

Paul : Quand viendra le temps nous travaillerons avec nos importateurs sur un marketing spécifique pour chaque pays. Nous connaissons la marque, et nos importateurs connaissent leur marché ! Nous travaillerons étroitement ensemble pour s’assurer que chaque marché aura la communication la plus efficace.

Arnaud : A propos du positionnement tarifaire, les fans ont peur qu’avoir un label « bas coût » serait dommageable pour la marque MG. Nous voyons MG comme des voitures de sport « abordables » plutôt que « bas coût » qui sonne comme « mauvaise qualité/voitures inférieures ». Que pouvez-vous nous dire sur le positionnement tarifaire et comment prévoyez-vous de communiquer sur le positionnement produit/prix ?

Paul : Bien que je ne sois pas en mesure de communiquer de manière spécifique sur le prix, je suis profondément d’accord avec votre opinion. Trop bon marché et vous diminuez la marque, trop cher et vous n’êtes pas compétitif. Nous vendrons les voitures à un prix où les consommateurs en auront pour leur argent, tout en assurant que le positionnement de la marque et le résiduel des voitures restent protégés.

Arnaud : Qui a trouvé le slogan “A New Journey” et quel message/image vous souhaitez véhiculer avec ce slogan ?

Paul : Le thème « A New Journey » vient d’une collaboration entre les départements ventes et marketing de NAC/MG et les agences de marketing et de relation publique. Cela vient de l’héritage de cette marque Britannique icône et recommence avec le processus d’assemblage des véhicules sur le site historique de l’Automobile Britannique – Longbridge.

Arnaud : Nous avons vu beaucoup de scepticisme sur le retour de la marque MG et le redémarrage de l’usine de Longbridge. Mais aujourd’hui nous avons pu voir l’inauguration de l’usine de Longbridge même si beaucoup reste à faire. Que diriez-vous à des investisseurs pour leur faire croire en vos objectifs ? Est-ce que NAC a sécurisé assez de fonds pour permettre le développement de la marque MG à l’étranger et considérez-vous établir des partenariats avec d’autres constructeurs, en particulier SAIC ?

Paul : NAC a investi énormément d’argent pour le futur à long terme de MG, à la fois en Chine et à Longbridge. Nous avons le support total de nos investisseurs, incluant les locaux, provinciaux et le gouvernement national. Le développement de la marque à l’étranger est fondamental pour nos investissements et nos futurs objectifs. Bien que le marché Chinois est clé pour notre expansion et notre croissance, l’export et la production en Europe est tout aussi important pour le futur de MG. Quant aux partenariats, NAC MG a créé des partenariats mutuellement bénéfiques depuis le début il y a 2 ans. Nous avons travaillé tout durant avec un nombre de compagnies très respectées sur tous les aspects du design de la voiture, du développement et de la production, et nous continuerons à le faire, pour s’assurer que nous protégeons les intérêts de nos investisseurs, et pour fournir les meilleurs véhicules possibles à nos clients.

Arnaud : A propos de vous Paul, vous avez créé un Blog ce qui est une sympathique initiative. Auriez-vous créé un outil de communication comme celui-ci si vous étiez impliqué dans une autre marque plus généraliste (comme Renault, Rover ou Ford) ?

Paul : Il se trouve juste que je travaille pour MG, vit en Chine et adore écrire sur mes expériences. NAC MG est une compagnie très ouverte, et raisonnablement me donne de la liberté. Cependant NAC MG n’est pas affilié avec mon blog, y sont présents mes idées qui ne représentent pas forcément les idées de la compagnie dans laquelle je travaille. Je pense que si j’avais travaillé pour une autre compagnie j’aurais quand même écrit un blog – mais peut-être je n’aurais pas eu une réaction aussi fantastique !

Arnaud : Est-ce que NAC s'inspire de la manière dont BMW gère la marque Mini ? (et la question associée qui tue : Il y aura t-il une prise pour iPod dans la TF ? )

Paul : ha ha personnellement j’adore la manière dont BMW a mis en valeur/ « marketé » la Mini, tout du showroom jusqu’aux brochures est vraiment « slick » (Arnaud : pas de traduction exacte, en gros « cohérent ») et individuel. Je pense que nous essayons de vendre une proposition d’achat similaire, cependant je pense que notre approche marketing et « branding » sera un peu différente – comme la Mini nous avons une image de marque très distincte, cela a besoin d’être exploré et plus exploité. L’intégration de technologies moderne dans nos autos est un facteur clé de développement que nous explorons avant le lancement commercial de la nouvelle MG TF, donc oui je suis sûr que nos voitures seront prêtes pour recevoir des iPod !

This is the transcript of an interview I did with Arnaud, from MG Contact, the leading French speaking MG Enthusiasts Forum.

(Dont worry there is an English version of the interview available at
I just thought it would be nice to post a BLOG in a differant Language!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

29th May 2007 – The alternatives!

Firstly I have to say that my previous BLOG was by no means an attack at the entire British Media, over the last couple of years I have made some good contacts, and even some good friends from people involved in the media. I have found some of them honest, honorable and even down-to-earth individuals with family’s, feelings and yes even a willingness to listen and learn! However there are those who are lazy, those who just regurgitate, reassemble and re-type other people’s correspondence. They scan the Internet, view the BLOGS and discussion forums, read yesterdays newspapers and even talk to the ‘man down the pub’. Then following a predetermined script set out to make the story fit their point of view – regardless of the facts. This is journalism at its worst.

I have come in for some backlash following my previous BLOG, I would like to apologize to those real journalists who spent time investigating the story, and delivered a true picture of the events. My issue was never with the story reported – yes we should have released prices, it would have been great to announce X number of dealers, and we desperately want to succeed, and employ 1000’s of ex-MG-Rover personnel – negativity around these issues, is accepted. However I still believe this should have been balanced with the excitement and fantastic news that Longbridge wasn’t dead – despite the thousands of nails firmly hammered into the coffin by many a journalist in the past. I just wanted to offer a couple of alternatives to how a story could have been told if NAC hadn’t brought MG, and finally a version of a report written by a NAC employee!

Scenario 1. Alternative Chinese Manufacturer's Purchase of MG-Rover

May 29th 2007 - The story begins over two years ago as a Chinese company that were once heralded as savior’s by the MG-Rover’s owners, stood aside and watched the company fall into administration, then as the vultures circled above they stepped in and purchased the company for a fraction of what it would have cost as a going concern. This launched their plans and they systematically stripped the Longbridge site of every nut, bolt, washer and light bulb, all packed away and transported to a factory somewhere in middle China. This incredibly secretive company who failed to purchase the Rover brand from BMW last year, have relocated the equipment and are now producing their version of the familiar Rover 75 for Chinese consumption branded as MG 750. We also saw a glimpse of a new vehicles at this years Shanghai Auto Show, a medium car badged as the MG 350, which could be on sale here in the UK early next year.
The company rejected offers to continue production at Longbridge, despite pleas by the unions and local politicians, and today a group of journalists and St Modwin executives gathered at what would have been the old Q’Gate to witness the opening of an enormous housing and retail park on the former heart of British Automotive Industry.
This alternative Chinese Manufacturer handed the keys over to St Modwen some 18 months ago, after taking what they owned, the following day the bulldozers moved in. Demolishing the massive site, flattening it to the ground, then like a phoenix the entire site has been transformed into the largest office, housing, and retail park in the south of the city. As far as the eye could see, bland, grey warehouses and shops have been erected on a place that not only provided jobs for thousands of people, but also provided hopes, dreams and a sense of pride in a whole community. This has been replaced by more branch’s of Comet, NEXT, Tesco’s and WH Smiths.
The original factory was testament, not just to car production, but during both World wars provided munitions and even airplanes to the British Forces fighting oppression by would be invaders. Over 100 years of blood, sweat and tears fell at the factory, famous for building, the Maxi, the infamous Allegro and of course the Mini – to name but a few of the hundreds of vehicle brands manufactured on the site. Employing hundreds of thousands over they years, training tens of thousands and providing a sense of belonging for millions. Also watching this final nail in Longbridges coffin were some ex-employee’s – tears welled in their eye’s as the ribbon was cut by a beaming councilor, he explained that the new development was a sign of progress and we shouldn’t look to the past but look forward to the future. For those who watched, the new shops and houses provided no future, no sense of belonging and almost certainly no employment. As one former employee said to me “A vast part of British heritage has been replaced by a thousand 3 Bed Semi’s that no one around here can afford – if that’s progress, I will stay in the past!”

Scenario No. 2 – British Investment Group Buy MG-Rover

May 29th 2007 - Just 2 years after a British consortium of businessmen purchased the old MG-Rover assets from the administrators, dozens of journalists gathered once more at the gates to witness the chains go on, and bring an end to another chapter in long Longbridges chequered history.
Like the Pheonix 4 before them, they promised to sustain production and employment in Longbridge well into the thousands for years to come. Unfortunately they underestimated the amount of money that was required to not only develop new vehicles, but also to pay the 2000 workers they hired 6 months after purchasing the company. There initial investment represented only 10% of what would be needed to develop a fresh range of vehicle’s, demanded by the press and the public. The wage bill ran into millions, especially when considering the senior executives bonus’s, and a failure to find a suitable partner to help share the burden of development costs so desperately needed, left the company struggling from day one.
It was a story all too familiar to many of us who reported the same scenario only a few years earlier when John Towers was hailed as the savior of MG-Rover, they (PVH) managed to keep the company afloat for 4 years, and made themselves extremely rich in the process. No one knows if the latest band of executives have made similar individual profits – we are sure that will be unearthed under the usual parliamentary investigation that seems to provide a more profitable revenue source, than actually building vehicles these days. What is true is, as before this is a devastating blow to the thousands of employee’s, their families and the suppliers who supported this latest resurrection attempt.
We were all surprised 2 years ago when the administrators accepted the offer from this latest group of investors. There had reportedly been higher offers from several Chinese companies’ who wanted the brands and the equipment to fuel the growing car market in the East. But in an attempt to keep local jobs the administrators were praised when they allowed them to re-open the gates only 6 months after the former collapse. Despite the halving of the workforce, they were hailed as heroes. The public were skeptical and the suppliers reluctant to open supply lines again, add together the lack of a partner and sufficient funds this always looked like an attempt to support various peoples political careers and bank accounts, rather than a serious attempt at reviving a once great British Icon.
So as we stand here yet again, with 2000+ employee’s facing an uncertain future, thousand’s more suppliers are left owed millions, and thousands of owners left without warranty’s on vehicles with rapidly dropping values. We wonder if anybody else would be around to try again? They Chinese have gone, and there doesn’t seem to be any rush for anyone else to take control – perhaps this really is the end of Longbridge

Scenario No.3 – Nanjing Automotive Buy MG.

29th May 2007 - Following the sale of MG-Rover’s assets to Nanjing Automotive Corporation nearly 2 years ago, the world’s media met to celebrate the reopening of Longnbridge.
We were all skeptical and surprised when NAC outbid various rivals to gain control of the company back in 2005, they were open about there plans to center production around a new plant being built in China, however surprisingly they also committed to keep Longbridge at the heart of their European strategy. Surprising because Longbridge had become the bye word for failure and inefficiency over the years. Strangled by a lack of investment and used as a cash cow for its previous owners, some observers had wished that the site and the marques had disappeared once and for all – maybe one reason why British political and financial support was less than forthcoming for the new owners.
Everyone expected the ‘Lift & Shift’ operation to have singled the end of over 100 years of production at Longbridge, and see the gates locked for the final time. Not so, the Chinese met there commitment and re-started production, albeit employing small numbers of former workers, and launching the same vehicle that the previous owners had touted for several year previously. They told us that this was just the beginning and that greater employment, and future models would arrive in the years to follow, can we believe them? Is this just a false dawn? What makes them think they can succeed where everyone else had failed?
Well one big factor in this is that they don’t have to solely depend on sales in Europe for success, everyone before them centered production and sales on the market in the UK and mainland Europe. NAC have centered their plans on Asia’s growing economy and fast paced automotive industry. Having built one of the largest and most technically advanced production facility’s in China, they hope to sell almost ½ million vehicles a year in the near future, investing in not only 1, but 2 facility’s before even taking a single deposit on a single vehicle! Money gained from this will be ploughed into new products, innovations and facility’s – not only in China, but also in the UK.
The UK is central to their plan, why? Because to be saleable in China you need a foreign brand, and experienced engineers to help develop future products, add to this the factor that many European consumers aren’t ready for Chinese imports. A UK facility makes far more sense than some would believe. Longbridge provides a real link to the origins of the brand, a focal point for enrolling British engineers and a production base in the heart of Europe.

One of the most important reasons that could be ignored but maybe the most influential in the decision to retain Longbridge is pure politics. Nanjing and the Jiangsu Government can now declare to be the first, and the only Chinese Automotive Company to wholly own a production facility in the West. The kudos this carries in China is enormous, and helps provide regional and national political and more importantly financial support.

The future remains unclear, however we can only stand back and admire NAC for taking a positive approach to manufacturing in the UK, while everyone else is transferring there facility’s to mainland Europe or the Far East, they are reversing the trend and recognizing that business isn’t just about profit and dollars, but is also about people, heritage and having a long term view.

Given the three circumstances the choice in my eyes would be very clear, maybe I have been rather negative on scenarios 1 & 2, but I guess history and hindsight play there part in my writing, I was also party to all three propositions during that period that required the administrators to choose a purchaser, whilst I didn’t have any influence in the decision – I am glad that NAC won out in the end, at least they have proved to be honest and loyal to the brand and Longbridge.
These are my final words on this issue, I like many others hope that NAC prove the doom Sayers wrong, and we live to see Longbridge continue to grow, develop new products and continue to be at the center of NAC’s European operations.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Longbridge Re-opens for Business

So the big day has come and gone, my BLOGS up to now have been generally mild mannered and tempered to reflect a conservative approach to ‘reporting’. I never intended my BLOG to be hard-hitting, or even critical – but unfortunately my temper has been stretched after watching Tuesday’s reports by the media.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not naive enough to have expected a rose tinted view on the opening of Longbridge – however I had hoped for an open minded approach to something that none of us ever believed we would see happen only 2 years ago.
Let me start by putting things into perspective.
Mid April 2005 will forever be etched on the hearts and minds of 1000’s of employee’s, suppliers, family’s and anyone associated with the Longbridge plant. It became clear during the days and weeks that followed, that there wouldn’t be any white knight in Shining Armour, no government rescue, not even a commitment from the preferred savior from China.
We watched as negotiation after negotiation, hope after hope disappeared into the distance, all we could do was observe, as our lives were ripped apart, livelihoods eradicated, dreams destroyed and futures left in doubt. The government poured millions into re-training and investigating what had caused such a disaster. The gates were locked and the plant mothballed, any future for the site looked bleak – former workers were told to move on, find new employment and leave the past behind.
Then a little known Chinese automotive company called Nanjing Automotive Corporation, managed to outbid a number of rivals to purchase the brand, the assets and the legacy that was MG and Longbridge. I wonder if they knew what they had exactly purchased? How deep the feelings for MG and Longbridge went, how significant the closure of Longbridge was to so many people, and just how well respected the MG brand was across the world. They made – some would say – ‘rash’ decisions and announced a commitment to keep Longbridge at the heart of MG’s future.

So a long journey started, a journey that meant an enormous investment by NAC in both time and money, immense challenges faced the company. With no production facility in China, no workforce, no suppliers, no infrastructure, no modern systems and no dealer network – NAC rose to the challenge and systematically achieved every goal that was set before them. One of those goals was the re-opening of Longbridge for production; May 29th 2007 was the internally issued date for this enormous challenge, and as with all of the official claims made by this company, that day saw a magnificent celebration to celebrate an achievement that few of us believed we would ever see again.
So why I am so angry you may ask? Well having spent the whole day answering questions by the British media, it became very apparent from the first discussion with journalists at 6.20am that the tone would be negative. I conducted over 25 interviews, and almost everyone followed the same script: Why weren’t we employing 1000’s of ex-mg-rover employee’s? Why aren’t we releasing new vehicle platforms? Why haven’t we already enlisted dozens of dealers? And why do we believe we can make a success of MG, when BMW, and P4 failed miserably?
There was no mention of those dreadful days in 2005, no mention of the investment made into the brand’s future, not even a whisper of the massive achievements made by NAC. All the broadcast media would do, was convey a pessimistic view on the whole proceedings. Maybe its because I have been out of the country for a while, and I have been used to a press association that try’s to reward great achievements and success, a system that promotes employment and regeneration, and actively encourages investment by ‘foreign’ companies.
I discussed this situation with various journalists, and tried to explain that without NAC we would could have been cutting the ribbon to yet another Lego land housing estate, or opening a trading estate providing consumers with more electronic gadgetry they didn’t know they needed. I tried to convey the fact that this was merely the beginning, and our plans extended far into the distance. Let NAC be judged over 5 to 10 years, not just a few months. Yes we have started conservatively, but I would rather be involved with a slow burning revolution, rather than a flash in the pan. We have all seen those who arrived spouted great things and systematically worn the company and its employee’s down to the ground, started large and brash and ended just as quickly.
Criticizing a company for employing local people, providing local investment and declaring a positive outlook for manufacturing at the heart of the British motoring industry doesn’t quite seem a balanced view – but then again maybe I’m biased?I truly believe that this is the re-birth of MG, not only in China – but also in the UK, and who knows maybe across the world. Good Luck Longbridge and NAC UK, but most of all good luck MG.