American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China Hardcover – 26 Jul 2011
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Who knew that the infighting among fiefdoms within General Motors was topped only by the economic tug–of–war between China′s central and regional governments? Well, Michael Dunne knew. China and GM created mutual automotive prosperity almost despite themselves and here is the story, rich with hilarious anecdotes and surprising insights. This book is essential reading, and fun reading, for anyone interested in modern China or international business.
Paul Ingrassia, Pulitzer prize winning author and Deputy Editor–in–Chief, Reuters News
GM and its Chinese partner, Shanghai Auto, have made billions in profits building Buicks and Chevrolets. But the road to success has never been smooth. Michael Dunne puts readers into the scene to witness both GM′s soaring triumphs and bitter setbacks. This book reveals Michael′s remarkable sense for how China works and how business there really gets done.
Jing Ulrich, Managing Director & Chairman of Global Markets, China, J.P. Morgan
Michael Dunne – raised in Detroit, educated in Chongqing, sometime resident of Shanghai, Bangkok, and Jakarta has one of the most unusual profiles in the automotive world. He also has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. As an analyst he witnessed the great Chinese car boom of the past decade, and here he tells the fascinating story of how General Motors, despite its troubles at home, gained a foothold in the People′s Republic.
Peter Hessler, Author of Country Driving and Staff Writer at the New Yorker magazine
If you have any intention of doing business in China, then this is a book that you must read. You don′t have to be General Motors to understand the complexities of their society. You don′t have to be General Motors to figure out how to do business and succeed in the toughest market in the world. Dunne lets you learn all that General Motors has learned without any of the pain and suffering and bleeding.
Keith Crain, Editor–in–Chief, Automotive News
I′ve shared many experiences with Michael Dunne on the front lines of China, and Michael knows China and the automobile market unlike anyone else I′ve met. His personal adventures and experiences give him a brilliant insight into an American icon′s journey into China. He chronicles it with intrigue, analysis, drama and humor. You can′t put it down!
James D. Power IV, Former Executive at J.D. Power and Associates and Co–author of Satisfaction: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer
Michael Dunne has done a superb job of chronicling and analyzing the very important and complex business story of GM in China. He has done this based on his boots on the ground experience of many years in Middle Kingdom and his great depth of understanding of the global auto industry. As we increase the speed of globalization, it is imperative to understand the many complex issues involved from the importance of personal relationships to understanding diverse cultures to even have a chance for success. The deep insight into the high stakes drama in the GM China story reaches well beyond the auto industry and, perhaps, well beyond China. Consequently this is a must–read for all who are involved in global commercial activities.
David Cole, Chairman Emeritus, Center for Automotive Research
American Wheels, Chinese Roads is a fascinating portrait of GM′s rocky road to success in China. Author Michael Dunne takes you on a wild ride, chronicling the failures, the successes, and the sheer random luck of an American company trying to seal the deal with the Chinese. Dunne′s access is unprecedented, his sources second–to–none. This is a book not only about the transformation of an American icon, but about China, revealed in all its complicated beauty.
Rob Schmitz, China Bureau Chief, Marketplace/American Public Media
From the Inside Flap
How could one company General Motors meet disaster on one continent and achieve explosive growth on another at the very same time?
While General Motors was hurtling towards bankruptcy in 2009, GM′s subsidiary in China was setting new sales and profit records. This book reveals how extraordinary people, remarkable decisions and surprising breaks made triumph in China possible for General Motors. It also shows just how vulnerable that winning track record remains.
In no small part does GM′s success in China spring from its management of shifting business and political relationships. In China, the government makes the rules for and competes in the auto industry. GM′s business partner, the City of Shanghai, is both an ally and a competitor. How does such an unnatural relationship work on a day–to–day basis? Where will it go in the future?
General Motors also engages in constant battles with other global and Chinese car makers for the hearts of demanding Chinese consumers. Dunne gives us rare glimpses into the mindsets and behavior of this new moneyed set, the world′s newest class of wealthy consumers.
China is already the number one car market in the world. During the next ten years, China will export millions of cars and trucks globally, including to the United States. American Wheels, Chinese Roads gives readers fascinating illustrations of what to expect when Chinese cars, companies, and business people arrive on our shores.See all Product description
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Michael Dunne has here a first rate `thriller' of GM's quest to get into the Chinese market, when going to China provoked a corporate `why?' The creation of a joint venture with the city of Shanghai, the transformation Shanghai-General Motors into a manufacture of acceptable Chinese automobiles in spite of Detroit corporate resistance to the modifications needed, and finally the transformation of control to the Chinese (51%-49%).
It's a revealing success story, but of a `who-done-it nature'. The foreign corporations coming to what will be the world's greatest market hope to maintain their unique identity or at least ownership of intellectual property rights but things happen.
Dunne writes "There are intriguing parallels between foreign companies like GM in China today and the saga of a talented Jesuit priest named Matteo Ricci who came to China in the late sixteenth century."
Matteo Ricci slowly gained favor and in time won entry into the Forbidden City. Convert the Emperor and all China will be Catholic. .
"But what need did the emperor have for Catholicism when he himself was already The Son of Heaven?"
It is clear Dunne understands well the Chinese nature of doing business and as reviewers have noted this is a must read for those planning to do business with the mainlanders. But you could just as well read about the early encounters of the western barbarians and the Middle Kingdom; the forms have changed but the message is the same. Stay while you are useful. There will be more joint venture stories coming until China has achieved what it wishes. Then perhaps they will establish joint-ventures in the foreigners' lands; as a Chinese friend commented once: "Our problem is that everyone thinks himself a business man." They have the foreign reserves to buy their way into many locals.
The corporate elite of home office were running an industrial giant into bankruptcy and Shanghai-General Motors profits were paying the cost of GM's pension plans; quite a story.
Dunne fills it with rich detail -- very entertaining.
There are few people more qualified than Mike Dunne to write about China's auto industry. He grew up in Detroit, worked at GM, and earned his MBA from the University of Michigan. He has also spent over two decades of his life living and working in China.
American Wheels, Chinese Roads is a more-or-less chronological telling of the experience of General Motors in China, but at appropriate points, Dunne interjects relevant stories about other auto companies and their experiences in China. And it is a pretty quick read because the story is so entertainingly told.
The stories are all fascinating because many reveal lessons that GM learned along the way and often contain fly-on-the-wall details about negotiations between Chinese and foreign automakers. Dunne makes these stories even more interesting (and demonstrates his China credentials) by weaving in little Chinese language lessons and references to Chinese philosophers and historical figures. He doesn't just lay the lessons on us; he often delves deeper into why things are the way they are in China.
At a few points, GM is portrayed almost as a naive victim, caught off guard by the machinations of the government or GM's competitors. For example, when GM inked its deal with Shanghai Auto (SAIC), it was promised a monopoly in the luxury vehicle segment only to be surprised a few months later that Shanghai Auto's other partner, Volkswagen was being allowed to introduce a competing vehicle.
Dunne also retells the story about how Chery Auto managed to beat GM to market with the QQ, a copy of the Chevrolet Spark, adding new details that I had not seen elsewhere.
In the penultimate chapter, Dunne sums up the experiences, not only of GM, but most foreign companies attempting to succeed in China:
"While placing their bets, companies must never forget that to be dealt a hand in the game of electric cars -- or almost any business in China -- you will need to get approval for a license.
And get a partner.
Once those are secured, you will begin to compete with both the house and the player. The ones making the rules are also playing the game -- and they're determined to triumph."
This nicely sums up much of my own research on China's auto industry. Getting into China is hard, and once there, you will only be there as long as the Chinese find you useful.
In terms of the details, I was very pleased to find that Dunne's take on China's auto industry largely agrees with my own -- not that it has to, but having spent several years researching this industry in which Dunne is an expert, I am happy to note that my own research was not off-base. This is not always the case when two writers tackle the same topic in relation to China: it often depends on which part of the elephant one is touching.
As enjoyable as this book was to read (it is truly a page-turner!), as a researcher, I often wished to see footnotes to support certain quotes, figures or other claims. My sense in this case is that many of the quotes come from Dunne's first-hand experience, although I would not have minded his saying so in the text.
The absence of footnotes would lead me to give this book only 4 stars, but that would be unfair as this book was clearly not intended to be a scholarly reference. It was meant to be read and absorbed, possibly in one sitting, as an entertaining work of non-fiction and a source of wise advice on the pleasures and pitfalls of doing business in China.
In the conclusion, Dunne leaves no doubt as to where he stands in his own assessment of the business environment for foreigners in China. His parting shot takes the form of a fictitious memo from a foreign auto executive in China to the US Auto Task Force. His final recommendations aren't delivered in anger; they are a matter-of-fact assessment of a playing field on which foreign businesses have been forced to face down the entire Chinese government all on their own for far too long.
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