Posts tagged ‘China’

GM and Ford keep falling down the top 10 table


It’s bittersweet to get news of the Chevrolet Corvette from what’s left of GM here in New Zealand, now a specialist importer of cars that are unlikely to sell in any great number. And we’re not unique, as the Sino-American firm pulls out of entire regions, and manufactures basically in China, North America, and South America. Peter Hanenberger’s prediction that there won’t be a GM in the near future appears to be coming true. What’s the bet that the South American ranges will eventually be superseded by Chinese product? Ford is already heading that way.
   Inconceivable? If we go back to 1960, BMC was in the top 10 manufacturers in the world.
   Out of interest, I decided to take four years—1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020—to see who the top 10 car manufacturers were. I haven’t confirmed 1990’s numbers with printed sources (they’re off YouTube) and I don’t know exactly what their measurement criteria are. Auto Katalog 1991–2 only gives country, not world manufacturer, totals and that was my most ready source.
   Tables for 2000 and 2010 come from OICA, when they could be bothered compiling them. The last is from Daily Kanban and the very reliable Bertel Schmitt, though he concedes these are based on units sold, not units produced, due to the lack of data on the latter.

1 GM
2 Ford
3 Toyota
4 Volkswagen
5 Daimler-Benz
6 Mitsubishi
7 Honda
8 Nissan
9 Suzuki
10 Hyundai

1 GM
2 Ford
3 Toyota
4 Volkswagen
5 DaimlerChrysler
7 Fiat
8 Nissan
9 Renault
10 Honda

1 Toyota
2 GM
3 Volkswagen (7,341,065)
4 Hyundai (5,764,918)
5 Ford
6 Nissan (3,982,162)
7 Honda
9 Suzuki
10 Renault (2,716,286)

   If Renault’s and Nissan’s numbers were combined, and they probably should be at this point, then they would form the fourth largest grouping.

1 Toyota
2 Volkswagen
3 Renault Nissan Mitsubishi
4 GM
5 Hyundai
6 Stellantis
7 Honda
8 Ford
9 Daimler
10 Suzuki

   For years we could predict the GM–Ford–Toyota ordering but I still remember the headlines when Toyota edged GM out. GM disputed the figures because it wanted to be seen as the world’s number one. But by 2010 Toyota is firmly in number one and GM makes do with second place. Ford has plummeted to fifth as Volkswagen and Hyundai—by this point having made its own designs for just three and a half decades—overtake it.
   Come 2020, with the American firms’ expertise lying in segment-quitting ahead of competing, they’ve sunk even further: GM in fourth and Ford in eighth.
   It’s quite remarkable to me that Hyundai (presumably including Kia and Genesis) and Honda (including Acura) are in these tables with only a few brands, ditto with Daimler AG. Suzuki has its one brand, and that’s it (if you want to split hairs, of course there’s Maruti).
   Toyota has Lexus and Daihatsu and a holding in Subaru, but given its broad range and international sales’ strength, it didn’t surprise me that it has managed to have podium finishes for the last three decades. It’s primarily used its own brand to do all its work, and that’s no mean feat.
   I’m surprised we don’t see the Chinese groups in these tables but many are being included in the others’ totals. For instance, SAIC managed to shift 5,600,482 units sold in 2020 but some of those would have been counted in the Volkswagen and GM totals.
   I won’t go into the reasons for the US manufacturers’ decline here, but things will need to change if they don’t want to keep falling down these tables. Right now, it seems they will continue to decline.

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Big Tech: you’ve already lost against mainland China


Big Tech often says that if they’re broken up, they won’t be able to compete with mainland China.
   Folks, you’ve already lost.
   Why? Because you’re playing their game. You believe that through dominance and surveillance you can beat a country with four times more people.
   The level playing field under which you were created has been disappearing because of you.
   You’re the ones acquiring start-ups and stifling the sort of innovation that you yourselves once created.
   If the US believes it should create more tech champions, or more innovators, then Big Tech needs to get out of the way and let people start the next big thing.
   But we know this isn’t about China.
   It’s about them trying to preserve their dominance.
   We all know they’ll even sell data to Chinese companies, and they’re not too fussed if they have ties to the Communist Chinese state.
   To heck with America. Or any western democracy. Their actions often underscore that.
   Without the innovation that their enterprise system created, they’ll increasing play second fiddle in a game that mainland China has played for much longer.
   I already said that Chinese apps have surpassed many western ones, based on my experience. Through a clever application of The Art of War.
   And if the world stays static, if all everyone is doing is keeping the status quo in order to get rich, and innovation is minimized, then it’s going to look like a pretty decaying place, sort of like the alternative Hill Valley with Biff Tannen in charge. Just recycling the same old stuff with a whiff of novelty as a form of soma. Pretty soon that novelty turns into garishness as a few more moments are eked out of a decaying invention.
   Where’s the next big thing, the one that’s going to have a net benefit for life on this planet?

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This is one of those things I have to note down otherwise it’ll get lost to time. And you won’t see this mentioned during ‘Chinese Language Week’ here.
   In the old country (台山, or Taishan, China), when my father was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s, there were some whānau in the village who had been to the United States, where his paternal grandfather had settled. When conversing with them about their experiences in foreign lands (specifically, 金山), they said a few things that confused him then, but as an adult it all clicked.
   One was when they spoke of their travels to 金山. They claimed, ‘船頭打鑼船尾聽唔度.’ As a child, Dad would think, ‘Wow, that ship must have been massive.’ He knew that if someone had 打鑼 in one village, the next village could hear it. Conclusion: the length of the ship between the bow and stern must be greater than the distance between two villages.
   As an adult, ‘The buggers tricked me. No wonder they couldn’t hear 鑼 at the bow of the ship. They would have travelled in the hold!’
   The second one was in response to, ‘What are movies like?’ I imagine cinemas were thin on the ground during wartime, so he could only ask those who had been to the US. Their response, ‘打煙塵.’ Hitting smoke and dust? (Note that these have to be pronounced in Taishanese, not Cantonese, and definitely not Mandarin, for this story to make any sense.)
   Again, as an adult, who wound up grasping English better than many Anglophones, he realized the old 台山阿伯 had seen westerns, where they fought Indians, or more specifically, Injuns.
   The third one was, ‘What’s it like speaking English?’ The reply: ‘婀籮心.’ He never figured that out as a child—it sounded like gibberish. Again, when older, having learned English, he realized what they meant: all the same.
   Bear in mind those early travellers, or immigrants who were returning to visit the old country, wouldn’t have had great jobs and learned little English. It isn’t surprising in this context that they had pidgin phrases, ones they could fool a boy with.

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October 2021 gallery


Here are October 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month. Might have to be our Instagram replacement!


Chrysler’s finest? The 300M rates as one of my favourites.
   The original cast of Hustle, one of my favourite 2000s series.
   Boris Johnson ‘wage growth’ quotation—what matters to a eugenicist isn’t human life, after all. Reposted from Twitter.
   For our wonderful niece Esme, a Lego airport set. It is an uncle and aunt’s duty to get decent Lego. My parents got me a great set (Lego 40) when I was six, so getting one at four is a real treat!
   Publicity still of Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me. Reposted from Twitter.
   Koala reposted from Twitter.
   Photostat of an advertisement in a 1989 issue of the London Review of Books, which my friend Philip’s father lent me. I copied a bunch of pages for some homework. I have since reused a lot of the backs of those pages, but for some reason this 1989 layout intrigued me. It’s very period.
   Fiat brochure for Belgium, 1970, with the 128 taking pride of place, and looking far more modern than lesser models in the range.
   John Lewis Christmas 2016 parody ad still, reposted from Twitter.
   More on the Triumph Mk II at Autocade. Reposted from Car Brochure Addict on Twitter.
   The origins of the Lucire trade mark, as told to Amanda’s cousin in an email.
   More on the Kenmeri Nissan Skyline at Autocade.
   Renault Talisman interior and exterior for the facelifted model.
   The original 1971 Lamborghini Countach LP500 by Bertone show car. Read more in Lucire.
   More on the Audi A2 in Autocade.

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Have you driven a Ford … lately? Probably not


Ford’s Brazilian line-up, 2021. Once upon a time, there were locally developed Corcels and Mavericks; even the EcoSport was a Brazilian development. Today, it’s Mustang, a couple of trucks, and a rebadged Chinese crossover.

We heard a lot about the demise of Holden as GM retreats from continents at a time, seemingly in a quest to be a Sino-American player rather than a global one. We’ve heard less about Ford shrinking as well, though the phenomenon is similar.
   Ford’s Brazilian range is now the Mustang, Ranger, Territory (which is fundamentally a badge-engineered Yusheng S330 from China with a Fordized interior), and Bronco. It’s beating a retreat from Brazil, at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs (its own, plus associated industries’) in a country that already has 15 per cent unemployment.
   Their reasoning is that electrification and technological change are driving restructuring, which seems plausible, till you realize that in other markets, including Thailand where there’s still a plant making Fords, the company is fielding essentially trucks, the truck-based Everest, and the Mustang.
   Ford warned us that this would be its course of action a few years ago, but now it’s happening, it makes even less sense.
   Say it’s all about (eventual) electrification. You’d want vehicles in your portfolio now that lend themselves to energy efficiency, so that people begin associating your brand with it. Trucks and pony cars don’t fit with this long-term. And I still believe that at some point, even before trucks commonly have electric powertrains, someone is going to say, ‘These tall bodies with massive frontal areas are using up way more of the juice I’m paying for. We don’t need something this big.’
   Let’s say Ford quickly pivots. It sticks a conventional saloon body on the Mustang Mach-E platform (which, let’s be honest, started off as a Focus crossover—the product code, CX727, tells us as much) in record time. Would anyone buy it? Probably not before they see what the Asians, who don’t abandon segments because they can’t be bothered working hard, have in their showrooms. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, and countless Chinese marques, have been building their goodwill in the meantime.
   It’s why two decades ago, I warned against DaimlerChrysler killing off its price-leading brand, Plymouth. You never know when recessionary times come and you want an entry-level brand. Before the decade was out, that time came, and Chrysler didn’t have much it could use without diluting its existing brands’ market perceptions to have some price leaders.
   Ford retreating from B- and C-segment family cars, even CD- and E-segment ones, means it’ll find it difficult to get back into those markets later on. A good example would be the French, who don’t find much success in the large saloon market generally, and would find it very hard to re-enter in a lot of places.
   I realize the action isn’t in regular passenger cars these days, but the fact that Fiat, Chevrolet and Volkswagen still manage to field broad lines in Brazil suggests that the market still exists and they can still eke out some money from their sales.
   It’s as though the US car firms are giving up, ceding territory. And on this note, Ford has form.
   In the 1990s, Ford’s US arm under-marketed the Contour and Mystique Stateside, cars based on the original European Mondeo. I saw precious little advertising for them in US motoring press. As far as I can tell, they wanted to bury it because they didn’t like the fact it wasn’t developed by them, but by Ford’s German-based team in Köln. ‘See, told you those Europeans wouldn’t know how to engineer a CD-segment car for the US.’ The fiefdom in Dearborn got its own way and later developed the Mazda-based Fusion, while the Europeans did two more generations of Mondeo.
   In the 2000s, it decided to flush the goodwill of the Taurus name down the toilet, before then-new CEO Alan Mulally saw what was happening and hurriedly renamed the Five Hundred to Taurus.
   It under-marketed the last generation of Falcon—you seldom saw them on forecourts—and that looked like a pretext for closing the Australian plant (‘See, no one wants big cars’) even though by this point the Falcon was smaller than the Mondeo in most measures other than overall length, and plenty of people were buying similarly sized rear-wheel-drive saloons over at BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
   The Mondeo hybrid has been another model that you barely hear of, even though the Fusion Hybrid, the American version of the car, had been on sale years before.
   Think about what they gave up. Here, Ford once owned the taxi market. It doesn’t any more as cabbies ultimately wound up in Priuses and Camrys. Had Ford fielded a big hybrid saloon earlier, Toyota might not have made inroads into the taxi market to the same extent. Ford almost seems apologetic for being in segments where others come to, and when challenging the market leaders, doesn’t put much effort in any more.
   Objectively, I would rather have a Mondeo Hybrid than a Camry, but good luck seeing one in a Ford showroom.
   Maybe Ford’s smart to be putting all its resources into growth areas like trucks and crossovers. Puma and Escape have appeal in the B- and C-segment crossover markets in places like New Zealand. They’re fairly car-like now, too. But to me that’s putting all your eggs into one basket. In countries like Brazil and Thailand, where Ford doesn’t sell well resolved crossovers in these segments, it’s treading a fine line. I look at the market leadership it once had in cars, in so many places, and in 2021 that looks like a thing of the past. More’s the pity.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »

September 2021 gallery


Here are September 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month. It sure beats having a Pinterest.

The 2016 Dodge Neon sold in México. More at Autocade.
   IKCO Peugeot 207. More at Autocade.
   Double standards in New Zealand media, reposted from Twitter.
   The cover of the novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Nice work on the use of Americana, which does take me back to the period, but I’m not convinced by this cut of Italian Old Style. I just don’t remember it being used that much.
   Daktari’s Cheryl Miller as the new Dodge model, in her second year, promoting the 1971 Dodge Demon. This was a 1960s idea that was being carried over with minor tweaks into the new decade, and it didn’t work quite as well as the earlier Joan Parker ‘Dodge Fever’ advertisements (also shown here in this gallery).
   House Beautiful cover, January 1970, before all the garishness of the decade really hit. This is still a clean, nicely designed cover. I looked at some from the years that followed on House Beautiful’s website, and they never hit this graphic design high mark again.
   That’s the Car and Driver cover for my birth month? How disappointing, a Colonnade Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
   French typesetting, as posted on the forums.
   Read books, humorous graphic reposted from Twitter.
   My reply in the comments at Business Desk, on why it made more sense for me to have run for mayor in 2010 and 2013 than it would in 2022.
   Seven years before its launch, Marcello Gandini had already styled the Innocenti Mini. This is his 1967 proposal at Bertone.
   JAC Jiayue A5. More at Autocade.
   Phil McCann reporting for the BBC, reposted from Twitter.
   Car and Driver February 1970 cover. As a concept, this could still work.

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Can a no-name mouse take the place of a Microsoft Intellimouse?


I’ve occasionally had good luck with ultra-cheap Chinese mice. Years ago, I bought one, with very simple left and right buttons and a scroll wheel, and it proved to be one of the most comfortable I owned. The wheel didn’t run smoothly at first but a quick trim of the plastic, and it’s been fine since.

   This US$3·89 mouse (price at time of writing) was a similar case. I ordered it to see if it might be better than the NZ$75 Asus ROG Strix Evolve mouse, and that was bought to replace my favourite, the Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1. One of those was being used after my Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 died—like the Intellimouse, these had large bodies that people with bigger hands, like me, can use.
   As those in a similar predicament know, mice have shrunk over the last decade, so finding a replacement takes months as you read the specs and, in some cases, visit the stores to see if they have anything.
   A Tecknet mouse proved too low by a millimetre or two to be comfortable, but when I saw this no-name unit being sold by a place called 7 Elves Store (did they mean dwarves, as in Disney?) on Aliexpress, I decided to take a punt. (The specs suggest the brand name is Centechia, but it’s nowhere to be found on the device or in the heading and description.) And for US$3·89 plus (sorry) my share of carbon emissions from the air freight, it didn’t cost me much to find out.
   It arrived a few weeks ago in damaged condition. The buttons did not work at all, and once again I had to make some simple repairs to get it working. It’s too light. The plastic is of a crappy grade. And the details on the base of the mouse suggest whomever wrote the text had not been in the occident much, if at all. I don’t like the lights because I don’t care if a mouse has pulsing RGB effects since (a) my hand is over it and (b) I’m looking at the screen, not the mouse.
   But here’s the thing: it fits my hand. It’s nowhere nearly as comfortable as those old Microsoft mice, but as a cheapie that I can take in my laptop bag, it does a better job than the Tecknet. It’s not as comfortable as the Asus, but it beats every other mouse, that is, the ones I didn’t buy, that I’ve seen in the shops. On the whole, I can use it more than the Tecknet, and it will do when I’m travelling or out of the office, though I still haven’t found the holy grail of a decent sized Microsoft mouse. (The revived Intellimouse, as I may have mentioned earlier, is asymmetric, and its shape doesn’t work for me.) I’m not sure why this is so hard for mice manufacturers: you’ve all peaked a bit early, and none of the improvements you’ve made have advanced the ideas of user comfort and ergonomics.
   For those who care about this stuff, here’s the Aliexpress link.

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July 2021 gallery


Here are July 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

Star Trek: 1999 reposted from Alex on NewTumbl. Didn’t Star Trek and Space: 1999 share a producer?
   Publicity shot for French actress Manon Azem, from Section de recherches.
   Charlie Chaplin got there first with this meme. Reposted from Twitter.
   I realize the history page in Lucire KSA for July 2021 suggests that you need a four-letter surname to work for Lucire.
   The 1981 Morris Ital two-door—sold only as a low-spec 1·3 for export. Reposted from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Ford Capri 1300 double-page spread, reposted from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Alexa Breit photographed by Felix Graf, reposted from Instagram.
   South America relief map, reposted from Twitter.
   From the Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei episode ‘Abflug’, to air July 29, 2021. RTL publicity photo.
   Lucire’s Festival de Cannes coverage can be found here. Photo courtesy L’Oréal Paris.
   Last of the Ford Vedette wagons, as the Simca Jangada in Brazil, for the 1967 model year. The facelift later that year saw to the wagon’s demise.
   Ford Consul advertisement in Germany, announcing the 17M’s successor. Interesting that the fastback, so often referred to as a coupé, is captioned as a two-door saloon, even though Ford did launch a “standard” two-door. More on the Consul in Autocade here. Image from the Car Factoids on Twitter.

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A brief misadventure into the Chinese internet


When I was a kid and wanted to hit back at someone for being mean to me, my parents would often say that successful people, true leaders, would be 大方, which is roughly akin to saying that one should rise above it. I would say that goes with nations as well: you can tell when a country is in a good state by the way its citizenry behaves, and online behaviour is probably a proxy for that.
   As many of you know, my literacy in my mother tongue is just above the level it was at when I left Hong Kong, that is to say, it’s marginally better than a kindergartener’s. And where I come from, that means age 3, which is already in the big leagues considering I started at 2½, having passed the entrance exam, and had homework from then on. What I can write is in colloquial Cantonese, devoid of any formal structure that someone with a proper education in the old country would know. If you’re Cantonese, you’ll be able to read what I write, but if your only idea of Chinese is Mandarin, you’ll have little clue. (Bang goes the official argument in Beijing that Cantonese is a ‘dialect’. It can’t be a dialect if a speaker of one finds the other unintelligible.)
   With Meizu having essentially shut its international forum, I decided to head to the Chinese one to post about my experience with its Music app, and was met by a majority of friendly, helpful people, and some who even went the extra mile of replying to my English-language query in English.
   But there were enough dickheads answering to make you think that mainland China isn’t a clear global leader, regardless of all the social engineering and online credit scores.

   When I used Facebook, I had ventured on to a few groups where people simply posted in their own language, and those of us who wished to reply but didn’t understand it would either use the site’s built-in translator, or, before that was available, Google Translate. I still am admin on a group where people do post in their own language without much issue. There’s no insistence on ‘Speak English, I can’t understand you,’ or whatever whine I hear from some intolerant people, such as the ones sampled below.

   That makes you despair for some folks and one conclusion I can draw is that members of a country who demand such a monoculture must not see their country as a leader. Nor do they have much pride in it. For great nations, in my book, embrace, or believe they embrace (even if they fall short in practice) all tongues and creeds, all races and abilities. They revel in their richness.
   Of the negative souls on the forum, there was the crap you’d expect. ‘Write in Chinese,’ ‘Why is a Cantonese person writing in English?’ ‘Think about where you are,’ and ‘I don’t understand you’ (to a comment I wrote in Cantonese—again supporting the argument that it isn’t a dialect, but its own distinct tongue).
   Granted, these are a small minority, but it’s strange that this is a forum where people tend to help one another. And it tells me that whether you’re American or Chinese, there’s nothing in the behaviour of ordinary folks that tells me that any one place is more likely to be a centre for 21st-century leadership than another.
   I’ve had far worse responses to Tweets, by a much greater proportion of people (the UK still stands out as the worst when I responded to a Tweet about George Floyd), but it’s the context. Twitter is, as Stephen Fry once put it, analogous to a bathing pool into which too many people have urinated, but a help forum?
   It’s the globally unaware, those who engage in casual xenophobia, who are intolerant of other languages, who are the little people of our times, having missed out on an education or life experience that showed them otherwise. They reside in the old country as much as in so many other places. The leading nation of the 21st century does not look like it’s one of the obvious choices. Future historians, watch this space.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, leadership, New Zealand, technology, UK, USA | 1 Comment »

Time to abandon Meizu Music: 8.2 is a lemon


That didn’t last long. Within a day, this was what Meizu Music showed:

   The songs, all 1,229 of them that I had fed in manually, are still there, and they still play, but the question remains: for how long? If they don’t show in the list—I told you computing devices were forgetful—then how long before the program fails to play them at all? Not only were the songs gone from the list, the few MP3 files that were on the phone’s RAM (from dynamic wallpapers and recordings) don’t show, either!
   I really didn’t want to chance it but you just have to conclude that Meizu has released a lemon, and if in a year they still can’t get it right, then it’s time to abandon it.
   I could go with Migu Music but I wanted something with the functionality of the old Meizu Music. After trying several apps, I’ve settled on an advertising-supported Muzio Player. It’s not perfect—the cover artwork doesn’t show for everything, and updating it manually for an album doesn’t see it shared with the individual tracks within—but it does the job for the most part. And, like every other app I trialled, it picks up the music on the SD card.
   Since I keep phones for some time—the old M2 Note is repaired—it’s going to be a long time before I’d contemplate a replacement for the M6 Note. But when I do I doubt it’ll be another Meizu. After being a cheerleader for the brand in the late 2010s, they’ve really fallen behind in customer service and, how, software development. Whomever else is willing to go the Google-free route is going to get my vote.

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Posted in China, design, technology | 3 Comments »