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

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