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!)