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Asia car industry expanding

Automotive production in both Thailand and China are expanding dramatically, not just in numbers but also in quality.

In the course of our recent trip to Thailand and China we were able to visit three different factories, the General Motors plant at Rayong in the south-east of Thailand, the Cummins engine facility in Beijing and the SAIC Maxus factory near Shanghai.

 Each gave some insight into the changing direction of automotive manufacture that is swinging inexorably to the east, as well as the western influence that’s helping guide the expansion.
 
Our first stop was at the GM Thailand factory at Rayong which is the source of the all-new Holden Colorado ute that’s due here shortly, as well as the Colorado 7 SUV that will follow early in 2013.

The jewel in the crown of the plant is a brand new diesel engine facility, housed alongside the general assembly line, where the two Duramax engines used in the Colorado are built.
 
Our guide for the tour of the Rayong plant, which has a production capacity of 130,000 units per annum, was GM Thailand’s Vice President Powertrain, David Clarkson, one of a number of Americans at the forefront of the development and operation of the factory.

Using the latest in leading-edge computer and laser technology the powerplant facility was described by Mr Clarkson as the benchmark for all General Motors engine plants.
 
Currently in production are the two Duramax engines that power the all-new Colorado ute we reported on recently, with work already underway on the next upgrade due in 2014. Both the 2.5 and 2.8 engines are built from the same engine block, currently imported but set to be built locally from later this year.

The 236 parts in the engine come from 92 plants from 17 countries around the world but with a steadily growing proportion being sourced from within Thailand.
 
Moving on to China we were able to visit the factory of the Beijing Foton Cummins Engine Company (BFCEC), a 50-50 joint venture between the US-based Cummins Engine Company and Foton, the fourth largest of China’s burgeoning number of auto manufacturers with a focus on trucks and light commercial vehicles.
 
Although it’s not a well-known name within the Australian car industry Cummins is one of the world’s oldest (formed in 1919), largest and most-respected manufacturers of diesel engines.
 
Cummins engines power a large range of trucks including such well-know brands as Freightliner, Iveco, Kenworth, Mack, Volvo and Western Star. They are also on their way to Australia under the bonnets of Chinese JAC light-duty trucks.
 
As with the GM Thailand engine operations, the BFCEC factory is run by a combination of local and imported personnel, in this case including a couple of thirty-something English executives in Quality Director, Simon Crowhurst, and Chief Engineer, Steve Saxby, who guided us through the factory.
 
The blend of east and west again seemed to work well despite the obvious language problems.
 
Like the other facilities that we’ve seen in the new China, the Cummins factory is modern and well-designed. Two turbo-diesel engines, the ISF2.8 and ISF3.8 with capacities of 2.8 and 3.8 litres, are currently being produced, for use in small trucks, light commercial vans, pickups and SUVs.
 
Unlike many Chinese operations, about 80 per cent of the Cummins engines are being built for the export market with the engines ranging from Euro 3 to Euro 5 emission levels depending upon destination country requirements.
 
Automotive production in both Thailand and China are expanding dramatically, not just in numbers but also in quality. Overseas companies such as Honda, Nissan and General Motors have been building vehicles in Thailand for some time and their resilience and efficiency was shown by the remarkable recovery at the Honda factory following the disastrous 2011 floods.
 
In China a series of joint ventures between local and international companies, the only way that the latter can operate there, are steadily improving the quality of that country’s vehicles with the eventual plan to begin large-scale export programs.