Archive for the ‘China’ category


The standard Chinese New Year news report

26.01.2020


Janos Perian from Pixabay

Every year, I hear or read a news report along these lines here:

It’s Chinese, or the lunar, New Year today, and Asian communities all over New Zealand are coming together with their families to celebrate. It’s the Year of the Rat, which means it will be a lucky and prosperous year.

Sometimes they’ll append the last statement with ‘says [insert prominent Chinese New Zealander]’ or ‘says [insert name], president of the New Zealand Chinese Association.’
   I know this because one year I was the name inserted, but you need the context, and there’s never any room for it since it’s usually the last story in the news.
   Here’s how the interview tends to unfold.
   ‘It’s the Year of the Rat next year. What’s that going to bring?’
   ‘Well, it really depends. Every year has its own energy, and it applies differently to every person depending on their bazi and the trend of their year. It’s like western astrology: different strokes for different folks.’
   ‘But do you reckon for some it’s going to be lucky and prosperous?’
   ‘Yes, for some it will be.’
   Bingo. There’s your closing sentence. ‘It’s the Year of the Rat, which means it will be a lucky and prosperous year, says local Chinese man Jack Yan.’ And that’s why every year, the news report is a cookie-cutter item about an ethnic community really into luck and money.
   I mean, if you lived in Wuhan right now, you’ll probably be saying it’s going to be a shit year because your New Year’s practically been cancelled and you can’t see your whānau while your city’s in lockdown. I think the closest equivalent would be, for an American, Thanksgiving being cancelled, and for many, Christmas being cancelled.

Incidentally, I’m not sure why the WHO held back on declaring the corona virus outbreak an international matter. Did they not know the New Year is the greatest migration of humans on this planet? Repatriating Brits after Thomas Cook collapsed is child’s play. And now we have the people suspected of having the virus arriving in certain other countries.

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It took a while: Autocade hits 4,000 models

08.01.2020

The Chinese-market Buick Enclave became Autocade’s 4,000th model today. It wasn’t planned: in fact, I had readied a photograph of the Hyundai Tiburon (RD), expecting that would be the 4,000th. But, as happens with this site, you spot something, and you want that clarified. I haven’t been methodical about Autocade, ever—it has always been about what took my fancy and whether my reference books on the topic were around. (After the move, a few still aren’t, so fans of smog-era US cars may have some waiting before they see those increase in numbers again.)
   Just as I do with each millionth page view, I thought I’d see how the entry numbers had progressed:

December 2009: 1,000 models (21 months to first 1,000)
December 2012: 2,000 models (three years to second 1,000)
December 2014: 3,000 models (two years to third 1,000)
January 2020: 4,000 models (six years and one month to fourth 1,000)

   In other words, these last 1,000 took ages, and I suspect it’s a mixture of busy-ness on other ventures and the fact that a lot of modern cars that get entered aren’t that inspiring.
   When many entries of new models into Autocade are of SUVs, especially Chinese ones that have little to distinguish themselves, then it’s not as fun as adding those models that you’ve had some connection with from your youth. The first 1,000 were easy: I remembered many of the details (cubic capacities and prices, for instance—I am that much of an anorak when it came to stuff from my childhood) and while I still checked with books, they didn’t take that long to write. But how many of us care about the difference between the Honda Pilot and Passport, or the links between the Beijing X3, Changhe Q35, BAIC X35 and Senova Zhixing anyway?
   I imagine that there’s more editing that goes on today, too. When a current model gets entered, you just put the start of production and ‘to date’. But there’s no guarantee we’ll revisit that page when the car ends production; and often there’s no announcement of the cessation anyway. Naturally with more pages on the database, the more time you’ll spend editing and correcting existing content than creating brand-new stuff. China’s massive boom in the late 2000s and most of the 2010s meant a plethora of models got entered, and with the market the way it is there, cannibalization of your own model lines hasn’t struck some car makers as an issue yet.
   There’s also the issue of translation: you want to go to a Chinese resource when writing about Chinese cars, and my literacy hasn’t really kept up with my age.
   A middle-aged man uses, in part, nostalgia to make sense of the car world—I buy Octane and Classic and Sportscar more than Autocar and Car these days—and while it’s easy to understand Kas, Fiestas, Focuses and Mondeos, it’s not as second-nature to utter EcoSport, Puma, Escape and Mustang Mach-E. It is no surprise to see Mercedes-Benz stick with its A, B, C, E and S pecking order, even for its SUVs (prepend GL). The next generation of motorhead will have no such issue: they’re used to these big line-ups and where everything sits.
   I’ll keep building, and there is plenty of exotica that hasn’t been entered. Perhaps between those and the Chinese crossovers, it can remain interesting.

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Breaking Hart’s

23.12.2019

Usually, all our publications use Hart’s Rules. It’s well understood, enough compositors know it, and it’s a credible enough style guide for us to point at and use as a defence. There are some departures, which so far few have complained to me about.
   1. Citation style. The OUP publishes The British Year Book of International Law, which doesn’t follow Hart’s on citations; and we follow a version that can be found in older examples of the Year Book (you can tell it has to be an older one, for at some stage it was renamed The British Yearbook of International Law). It also happens to be the style I learned when I was starting out, from a book by Jost Hochuli, and I understand some use it on the Continent. Brexiteers will not approve.
   2. Diphthongs. Man, I love diphthongs. How can you not? Typographically, these look great, and their abandonment, I believe, only came when typesetters using computers found it too hard. Today’s computers make it easy again, so I see no reason to not have them present again. Hart’s is silent on ligatures, so I’m quite happy to manœuvre Cæsar’s minutiæ.
   3. I am not a fan of the American short scale, because at some point, the numbers are going to get ridiculously large and it’s going to be inconvenient to use it. Plus the Chinese language adopts long scales for names of numbers, so the British long scale makes more sense to my native culture. Ten to the power of nine is a thousand million or a milliard, not a billion, which traditionally (I believe till 1974, so within my lifetime) was ten to the power of twelve, or what the Americans call a trillion. So far our publications do not require massive numbers, so we still say three thousand million, but I suspect when we get into bigger figures, we may have to bring back milliard, which is still in the dictionary, albeit as a defunct term. On this, Jacob Rees-Mogg might be quite happy to agree as part of his mission to take the Commons back to the 19th century, before all this metric system nonsense, other than using milliard, which is just too French. Maybe when we get to citing American authorities, we may have to relent, and certainly in the Middle East, American English tends to be more greatly accepted.
   4. Other than where requested, I go for the “road sign” approach to citing place names: Milano over Milan, Lyon over Lyons. On this, Chris Patten and I disagree. When doing transliterations and romanizations, I would actually write Beijing because that’s what a Beijinger would call their home town.
   I probably won’t win the third one, as most of the two thousand million Anglophones disagree with me, and the ratio of one holdout versus a milliard plus aren’t great odds.

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A couple of days before it became official: thoughts on PSA and FCA linking up

01.11.2019


Companies in FCA’s and PSA’s histories did once produce the Plymouth Horizon, so historically there is some precedent to a trans-Atlantic arrangement—not to mention the type 220 and 179 minivans and the commercial vehicles currently in PSA’s and Fiat’s ranges.

This is a few days old, but it’s nice to know that these hurriedly written thoughts on a private Facebook group reflected what I read a day later in the automotive press.

   Copied and pasted from the above (and yes, I know it should be e-208):

I read that as well, Jonathan. Elkann would be chairman and Tavares the CEO. I guess Fiat had to move on from talking with Renault while they have their internal squabbles. While some praise Marchionne, I thought it was foolish to let the less profitable marques suffer as he did—the global economy doesn’t stay buoyant all the time and at some point not everyone will want a hotted-up Alfa or Maserati. Especially as there seems to be no cohesive platform strategy. I think Fiat realizes the shambles it’s actually in despite what the share price says. There is some sense to have PSA platforms underpin a lot of Fiats (let’s face it, very little of the Fiat range is on a Fiat platform—there are GM, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ford and PSA bits—and the old Grande Punto platform can only go so far), but the more premium marques will still have to have unique platforms.
   Fiat really needs to do some rationalization of its own before approaching others but my sense is that it’s gone too far down this road and has no investment in either next-generation B- (Jeep Renegade) or C-platforms (Giulietta) where a lot of European sales will still lie. Its only real prize here is Jeep.
   Tavares will be able to slash a great deal and Europe could look good quite quickly, but I doubt anyone has any focus on the US side of things other than Jeep. PSA has some limited experience in South America but it won’t be able to integrate that as easily. And neither has any real strength in China despite being early entrants, with, again, Jeep being the exception. (Peugeot, DS and Citroën are struggling in China.)
   He had claimed that PSA was looking at some sort of alternative retail model for the US, but it also seemed a bit far off.
   If this happens, I think Tavares will “do a Talbot” on anything Fiat-related in Europe, eventually killing the Fiat marque (with maybe just a 208e-based 500 remaining), and keep Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep. Chrysler will remain with the Pacifica, Dodge might still have the Durango, but everything else would get the chop unless they consider bringing in a rebadged 508. Ram and Fiat Profissional will stay as separate entities. Fiat do Brasil will get some PSA tech. Then there might be some logic to what is left but I still feel Fiat has to get itself in order first.

   On reflection, maybe I was a little harsh on Sergio, as ignoring the mass-market brands has left FCA, with a portfolio of specialist and premium ones, a reasonably good fit for an organization that has the opposite set of strengths.
   One question remains: which is the cheap brand, the Plymouth, here? You can’t always go premium: sooner or later, economies weaken and people will want something entry-level. There may be wisdom to retaining Fiat in some shape or form. One more 108 variant can’t hurt …

Anyone notice a pattern here? That any company that owns Jeep eventually diminishes its own brand. Willys, Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler, and Fiat are either dead or no longer the forces they once were. Renault managed a controlling interest in AMC with 46·4 per cent in 1982, but that was bought by Chrysler five years later. At some stage, we must tire of these massive vehicles, and already there’s a suggestion that, in the US at least, nonconformist younger buyers are eyeing up sedans. Great if you’re Nissan in the US (and China), not so much if you’re Ford.

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Baojun doesn’t scream ‘premium’ and ‘next-gen tech’ to me

10.10.2019

I have to agree with Yang Jian, managing editor of Automotive News China, that Baojun’s new models ‘obviously’ failed to reverse the brand’s sales’ decline.
   It is obvious given that the vehicles are priced considerably above the previous ones, and despite its next-gen tech, there’s no real alignment with what Baojun stands for.
   There might be a new logo (débuted January 2019) but GM expects that this, the new premium products, and (I would expect) other retail updates would undo nearly nine years of brand equity.
   The associations of Baojun as an entry-level brand run deeply, and the new models are like, if you’ll pardon the analogy and the use of another car group, taking the next Audis and sticking a Škoda badge on them. Except even stylistically, the new Baojuns bear little resemblance to the old ones—they’re that radical a departure.
   I wonder if it would be wiser to keep Baojun exactly where it was, and let it decline, while launching the new models under a more upscale GM brand, even one perceived as ‘foreign’ or ‘joint venture’ by Chinese consumers.
   DaimlerChrysler made the mistake of killing Plymouth when it was surplus to requirements, then found itself without a budget brand when the late 2000s’ recession hit. Chrysler, once the upper-middle marque, had to fill the void.
   There’s a reason companies like GM and Volkswagen have brands spanning the market: they feed buyers into the corporation, and there’s something for everyone.
   And while it’s possible to move brands upscale, creating four lines where the base model prices exceed the highest price you have ever charged for your other base models is just too sudden a shift.

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First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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Huawei without Google: isn’t that a good thing?

21.05.2019

I see Google’s going to stop supporting Huawei as a developer. How is this a bad thing?
   First, Huawei can still get the public parts of Android, since they’re open-source. Secondly, if they don’t get updates ahead of time, so what? When have western software companies rolled out bug-free updates? Based on my own experience, Chinese cellphone developers make stuff that just works, and I’m inclined to trust them more these days.
   Thirdly, no one needs all that Google crap anyway: I always said that if it disappeared overnight, we’d all find replacements within a week. Now Huawei has to—in fact, it already has them.
   Anyone who owns a Chinese phone made for the Chinese market already knows that they have their own app stores. Why do you actually need YouTube through an app when you can browse to the website? Maybe Huawei will do a tiny YouTube app that only surfs to their site for those keen on getting into the Google snooping network. Is a Gmail app really a must if you can set up your phone really easily as an email client to pull from Gmail? As to maps, I’ve been using Here Maps since I’ve had my Meizu M2 Note in 2016, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s more than adequate. Recently I found they had maps of the Chatham Islands when the cars’ sat-nav didn’t.
   All Huawei really needs to do is roll out its own app store to its western phones with decent enough translations, and make sure it’s updated with the APKs.
   I have a better Meizu weather app on my phone than anything I’ve ever found on Google, and I’m sure Huawei has its version.
   I owned a Huawei phone many years ago, although it was from my telco and I never had it rooted. It came with a suite of battery-draining Google junk, including services that you could switch off only to have them restart; but when I was able to get a Google-free phone, I’ve never looked back. When that phone was replaced, I made sure the next one was Google-free as well.
   What’s going to happen is that Google and the US will lose out as Huawei might find itself zooming ahead with a superior app store, and its own developments may outpace the Americans’.
   Corporate America may be patting itself on the back, and their president may think he was doing their bidding, but I think they’ll find themselves weakened.

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A very humble 3,800th entry on Autocade

28.04.2019

We almost never plan which car winds up being the x hundredth model entered into Autocade, and here’s proof.

   The humble, boxy Mazda Demio (DY) was the 3,800th entry in Autocade. It makes a nice change from all the SUVs that have found their way on to the database in recent months, even if it isn’t the most inspiring vehicle.
   The vehicles either side of the Demio weren’t terribly interesting, either: the Sol E20X (the Volkswagen badge-engineered JAC iEV7S) and the current Fit-based Honda Shuttle. But if you want to be complete (we want to, even if we’re far away from it), you have to include the everyday workhorses.

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Autocade passes 15 million page views, as SUVs and EVs take hold

11.02.2019

Over the weekend, I noticed Autocade’s page-view stat had ticked over the 15,000,000 mark. In fact, it was at 15,045,000, and I estimate that it hit the milestone around February 6—fitting for it to have taken place as the (lunar) year began.
   With how busy things have been, Autocade has been updated less, but the traffic stats are promising, especially as Stuart Cowley and I film more segments for the Autocade video channel. As the year has started in earnest, there will be more updates, and the Salon de Genève next month usually pushes me to write more. Hopefully that will give our page-view rate a bit of a boost, considering it has slowed since September 2018, when I last posted about this topic.
   The trouble these days is that a lot of entries are about same-again SUVs: at the time of writing, of the last 20 newest entries, there are the Volkswagen Tayron, the Yusheng S330 and S350, the Chinese Ford Territory (based on the Yusheng S330, so it seemed logical to do these at the same time), Lexus UX, Acura RDX (TC1), Volkswagen Tharu, and the Brazilian and European incarnations of the Volkswagen T-Roc (they are different cars; and the Chinese one hasn’t been added, either). Once upon a time, such vehicles would have been relegated to an appendix in publications such as Auto Katalog, but now it’s regular motor cars that are becoming the niche products.
   The electric revolution has also been interesting, but also frustrating, to cover. Autocade is fun when you’re examining lineages; at this point in history, none of these electric models actually replace a petrol or diesel one completely. It’s also been tough getting technical data on some electric cars, the kWh rating, for instance, which we’ve been using as the equivalent for cubic centimetres in the entries. Hence the updates have slowed, because it’s harder to paint a complete picture about some of these cars.
   With China responsible for so many new releases, translation can be slow, especially for someone whose grasp of written Chinese is roughly that of a child’s, though at least I bridge two cultures well enough to weed out some of the obvious errors (e.g. people reporting that the Senova D80 was based on a Mercedes-Benz, which could not possibly be true).
   Following my tradition on this blog, here is how Autocade’s viewing’s going.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for fourteenth million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for fifteenth million)

   In September, Autocade had 3,755 model entries; it’s now up to 3,781—not a huge jump, possibly accounting for the traffic rate decrease as well.
   Here’s hoping for a bit more as the year progresses. I’d like to add in an entry for the new Mazda Axela, for instance, but sometimes you have to wait till the company itself publishes public data on its website, just for that extra accuracy. We’ll wait and see.

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