VIDEO: Unravelling the secret behind Chinese carmaker Chery's success!
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BEING a motoring journalist affords one many opportunities which are simply unavailable to those following other career paths, writes Kristian Harrison.
Endless doors to the weird and wonderful have been opened throughout my career, yet just when I think I’ve seen and done it all, something special comes along to really take my breath away.
This time, the friendly folk from automotive powerhouse Chery, in association with its exclusive dealership in the kingdom, Motorcity, flew out a small group from the region and offered us a feast - literally and figuratively - of activities as it celebrates one of its finest years yet.
After a gruelling journey to Shanghai, we were met with beaming smiles from the marketing team and promptly frogmarched in front of the paparazzi (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration) to have our tired faces framed in a number of cardboard Instagram cut-out props.
I got a bit more used to this by the end of the week, having counted upwards of 30 photo shoots, although the bags under my eyes didn’t get any smaller with a number of 6am starts providing an electric chair-esque shock to my system.
After checking in at a hotel in this fascinating metropolis, a concrete lawn of skyscrapers, we were taken to our first banquet … where I discovered that I’d been led a lie my whole life. The Chinese food we’ve all grown up on and eaten in innumerable ‘authentic restaurants’? Nope. Doesn’t exist.
No fortune cookies, no sweet and sour chicken, no chow mein … I feel like I’ve been betrayed by the world!
Luckily the ‘real’ Chinese food was still amazing, although not as spectacular as the Yangtze River Dragon Boat cruise which we went on that night, carving our way through the city and seeing the famous structures such as Shanghai Tower (the second-tallest in the world) and the Oriental Pearl Tower.
The following day, the tourism was put to one side as we got down to business with the first of our visits to the nucleus of the Chery operation, at the marque’s Styling Centre headed by executive director of design, Steve Eum.
This was a fascinating insight into the research and development aspect of the brand, showing the genesis of the cars from simple clay models to numerous scale replicas of exteriors, interiors, fastenings, features and more.
We were then treated to a special unveiling of the Exeed concept cars, the luxury arm of Chery aiming to bring a higher level of comfort and extravagance over the coming years.
Three hours on a bullet train followed as we snaked our way through the Chinese countryside to the city of Wuhu, where the real heart of Chery lies.
Here, we visited the Wuhu headquarters and heard from Guibing Zhang, the president of Chery, who spoke at length about the brand’s progress in both China and the Middle East, where it continues to gain significant traction in the market share.
Zhang promised further models would be coming soon to the Gulf, including the Tiggo 8, to be released imminently, which we were promptly taken to put through its paces at Chery’s nearby test track. You can read my thoughts on the model in the panel below:
The following day, we were treated to one of my personal highlights of the trip, the tour around the Chery factory, test centre and advanced technology research institute to see the best in Chinese manufacturing up close.
Of course, cars as intricate as these don’t just materialise out of thin air, but the amount of work that goes on in the production phase is incredible, and almost incomprehensible until you see it up close.
A giant warehouse stretching further than the eye can see was home to a myriad machines, conveyor belts, cranes, lift, pools and more, punctuated with workers diligently painting, hammering, pushing, pulling, sorting and filing as they fashioned huge chunks of metal into sleek, shiny cars.
In fact, the only thing that didn’t look spiffing was myself in long white overalls and a silly blue hat to stop dust getting in!
This was followed up by a tour of the post-production phase, where cars are crashed into concrete walls to test the impact on crash dummies costing as much as a million dollars each, plus virtual reality simulators and models to test the latest in technology and safety.
With the industrial side of things out of the way, it was time for the crown jewel of the trip … a visit to Huangshan, known as the Yellow Mountain in English.
This was perhaps the most scenic place I’ve ever visited. The region's low-hanging clouds, punctured like daggers by granite peaks and twisted pine trees, permeate in a 360-degree panorama which left me breathless … or maybe that was the three hour walk to the summit!
I’m not sure what was more impressive; the views, the fact that the cable car alone took 15 minutes from top-to-bottom to indicate the altitude, the five-star hotel constructed on top of the mountain, or the sight of a Chinese lady being carried on a bamboo throne by two flagging men to save her the walk. Incredible.
Six hours on the bus back to Shanghai later, followed by a trip to a local shopping mall which made Dragon City look like a market stall, and I thought I was just about ready for home.
Then I had to say goodbye to the friends I’d made, the people who had stopped at nothing to make sure we felt welcome in their country, and I felt a rush of sadness thinking back on how many experiences we’d shared together in the past week. I didn’t want to leave at all.
Having only scraped a tiny layer off the surface of this wonderful country, I knew I’d be back. This was one door I would not hesitate to step through again, and my sincere thanks go to Motorcity and Chery for opening it for me.