On a recent tour of China, I visited many vehicle plants and talked to managers and engineers in all disciplines of car and truck making. As well specific questions about each brand and factory, I asked all of them a set of similar questions, including what are the driving factors that will make Chinese-made vehicles into world-class products? The most common answer was quality. Quality of engineering and thus driving experience, passive and active safety performance, emission control and economy but most of all fit and finish; particularly of a-surface and paint.
This area is vital for Chinese OEMs, not only to satisfy the increasingly sophisticated domestic buyer but also to raise Chinese vehicles to global standards. They must strive to not only build export market credibility but also ramp up their building of plants outside the country and break into tough and some might say overcrowded markets in countries already well served by indigenous and transplant carmakers.
My visit to FAW-Volkswagen and talk with Liu Dong, featured on page 12 of this issue of APS, revealed VW’s concern with quality of finish. The Chinese-German joint venture was the first inroad into the Chinese market by a Western carmaker, and for many years it would be fair to say that the finish of their vehicle output was not always to VW Germany standards. The quality matched the market to a certain extent and its largest volume product, the Santana and derivatives, was seen as a ‘utility’ saloon car, mainly used as a taxi and priced competitively for the then much lowervalue Chinese domestic market.
In the last decade, Audi models have also been increasingly made in China, and this move has undoubtedly helped raise the quality of all FAW-VW and Shanghai-VW vehicles.
Audi in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm have moved to a tinfree cathodic e-coat chemical, and this brings to mind one of my favourite areas; the pressure that all in the finishing industry are under to cut VOCs and improve recycling and water treatment. As Tom Bennett of MINI says on page 16, the next big goal for the material suppliers is a practical water-borne or at least much less ‘toxic’ clearcoat. I hope that in the next APS magazine I shall be able to review such products. So, to the chemists at all coatings suppliers, the industry has thrown down a challenge. I look forward to your response.