“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), American inventor.
On a recent research journey to China, I was asked by the marketing head of a volume domestic carmaker: “What does Made in China mean in Europe and the US, does it still mean cheap and not such good quality?" This question reflects the debate among many observers of the global vehicle parc; many who see Made in China as a hallmark of cheap, high volume, low quality products, at best faithful copies of Western-made items that fall down on quality and durability, at worst flimsy generic goods that are ‘dumped’ on markets around the world.
My answer to the question, having toured this OEM’s modern plant, with its state-of–the-art machining centres and bodyshop, was that Made in China will very soon be dictated by a combination of the quality that the market demands and is willing to pay for. Many Chinese manufacturers have, as the company I visited has, all the tools and expertise to produce world-beating good value vehicles. For too long, the global marketplace has boughtin low price and low specification (and unfortunately often low quality) goods and then complained about their finish and durability. As labour rates have risen in the region, and carmakers make considerable investments in plant and machinery, so prices must rise. And having driven some new models in China, some not yet offered to the public, I can tell you that they have progressed in dynamic and build quality at a similar rate to the growth of the booming domestic and global market.
So I suggest that the message is that distributors and concessionaires around the world who sell Chinese-made goods show the same kind of forward thinking; that they demand the higher quality and are also prepared to pay the market price for it.
For it is not a question of if the Chinese will build world-class cars and trucks, but when? And the smart retailers will be the ones whose appetite for the vehicles is matched by their readiness to demand the specifications their customers want, and who are realistic about the true cost of quality.
As John Ruskin (1819 – 1900), an English artist and draughtsman, said: “There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too little.” I have been caretaker of the AMS magazine for two issues and this is the last AMS I shall be editing as the role has been taken over by Nick Holt.
Please do send him your news, views and indeed any observations about the industry – he will value your feedback, to help better inform you about tomorrow’s automotive manufacturing solutions.