Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Notes from the Field

I've hit a lull in my China auto research as many of my initial contacts have played out, and finding new ones is a painstakingly slow process. I never thought this would be easy -- indeed, if it were, someone else would have already done it -- but I never imagined it would be so difficult just to get people to talk to me. I expected the difficulty to be in getting them to open up once I already had the interview.

Having discussed this with a few people, I find the consensus that, despite China's tremendous development and "opening up", China is as closed as ever when it comes to discussing the internal workings of this country. Perhaps this is a key answer to why the rest of the world still hasn't welcomed the "new China" with open arms: open societies have difficulty trusting those that are closed.

Political commentary aside, here are some random auto-related items that have caught my attention...

GM Plans to Export Cars from China to US

According to the SCMP, GM is planning to export up to 17,000 China-built autos to the US beginning in 2011. This would make GM "the first automaker to begin exporting to the US from China".

From a Chinese perspective, I think this move is a godsend, and China's government should be doing all it can in the background to facilitate this (and maybe it is). The difficulty that Chinese brands will have in the US is establishing trust. It strikes me as a good interim move to have Chinese-built, American-branded cars accepted first by US consumers.

While the idea may seem crazy to Americans right now, just remember how much we laughed at Japanese cars in the 70s and Korean cars in the 80s. We're not laughing now.

Furthermore, I am convinced that the quality of cars being built by American workers is second to none. Once Detroit legacy costs have been offloaded (subliminal guy coughs "UAW" under his breath), the Big 3 (or whatever remains of them) will be among the most competitive in the world.

Chongqing to Subsidize Buyer of Changan Hybrid

As reported by, the city government of Chongqing has announced its intention to subsidize the purchase of hybrid vehicles. This subsidy of up to 36,000 RMB ($5,270) comes on top of generous subsidies expected to be confirmed by the Central Government as early as next month.

There's just one catch. The subsidy will only be given for hybrids made by one company, Changan, which is headquartered in (drum roll)... Chongqing.

Local protectionism continues to rear its ugly head.

Speaking of ...

This venerable auto-related website decided my most recent post "Will China Lead the World in New Energy Vehicles?" was worth reposting on its own site. For this, I am honored because I look to as an authoritative source for China auto-related news and information.

While I am grateful to Gasgoo for listing yours truly as the author of the piece, I was disappointed that they listed its source as "", and that they also neglected to include a link back to my website. Despite a comment I left on my story at their website, and an email I sent to them several days ago, they have failed to extend to me the same courtesy that I give to them when I cite their stories.

How 'bout it, guys?


  1. Quote: "I never imagined it would be so difficult just to get people to talk to me"

    You mean you approach people and ask to interview them, and they simply turn you down?

  2. Hi Thomas,

    "You mean you approach people and ask to interview them, and they simply turn you down?"

    Not at all. I don't think that would happen as the Chinese feel uncomfortable giving a straightforward "no" to any question.

    The problem I have had is in a couple of different areas: 1) getting people to reply to my emails, and 2) getting go-betweens to deliver the proper message about my intentions.

    The email issue is one that I will just have to feel my way through. When all I am given is an email address, I have to come up with a more compelling way to state my case, keep it short, and somehow make it worth their time.

    As for the go-betweens, sometimes I have no choice but to allow someone else to make my pitch for me, and of course, I have no control over that. I now realize that I have to do some coaching in order to get my go-between to convince a potential interviewee that I am a scholar, not a corporate spy or a journalist, and that I offer complete anonymity to all whom I interview.

    If you are the same Thomas who asked questions about financial statements a few posts back, I have learned more about this, and it supports your view. More to come...

    Thanks for writing!

  3. I suggest you get contacts from the US Commercial Service or "FCS" at the Embassy or Consulates in China. Try the US Consulate in Shanghai.


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