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Six Quick Questions - Kevin Wale, GM China


1. How are your Chinese lessons going and, as an ex-patriate Australian who started with Holden and also led Vauxhall in Britain, how are you finding the country and culture?

"I am fine with Nihao (hello), Qing shuo man yidian (please speak a little bit slower) and Wo zhongwen bu hao (My chinese is not very good). "Chinese lessons are tough and progress is slow. However I will battle on. I do think it is important to make an effort to communicate in the language of the country in which you live.

"China itself is lots of fun and very diverse. Shanghai - where I am based - is a very modern metropolis moving ahead at an incredible speed. The people are friendly and the eastern culture with its thousands of years of history provides an unbelievable contrast from what I was accustomed to in the western suburbs of Melbourne."

2. What are the biggest challenges for Kevin Wale, and General Motors, in China?

"As the second-largest vehicle market in the world and the fastest growing market, our challenge is to carve out a leadership position in China.

"Winning in China is clearly an important objective, not only for General Motors but for most of the other major automotive companies in the world. China has quickly become one of the most competitive markets anywhere. We expect to see about 40 new competitive products reach the market this year alone.

"We know what we have to do, we have made a great start growing from less than 1 per cent of market share in 1997 to a market leadership position last year at just over 11 per cent share.

"The key to our success will continue to be, together with our partners, building a great local team in China while fully leveraging the best of our global and local resources - and we are making excellent progress in that area."

3. Is this the toughest assignment you have had with GM since you started at Holden?

"To be honest, they are all tough and you always work at your maximum capacity so there is not much more you can crank up.

"China has a different culture, different business and political structure and is much more heavily based on the nuances of relationships so it is tougher in that respect. On the other hand it is very exciting because we are right in the middle of the fastest growing market in the history of the auto world.

"It's an opportunity not likely to be repeated in my lifetime."

4. How do you see the future for you company?

"We are doing very well in China. We are a market leader, we're profitable, we have an excellent and growing distribution network right across China, we have a well-established manufacturing footprint with the ability to expand rapidly to meet future demand.

"We have China's foremost automotive engineering and design centre, which enables us to tailor our global products to the needs and wants of our customers, and the broadest range of products and services in the auto industry in China.

"We also have an outstanding partner in SAIC and the full commitment of General Motors to continue to grow in China with the market itself, so we think the future is pretty bright."

5. What about the potential for the upcoming VE Commodore and Statesman in China?

"We already have the Statesman in China, which is sold as the Buick Royaum, and we are working to increase sales as quickly as we can.

"With respect to the VE Commodore, we know it will be a fantastic car but we already have a similar-sized car which we design and build in China so its opportunities are limited. All the more for those lucky customers in Oz!"

6. How long before we see Chinese cars in Australia, not necessarily from GM, and do you think they will be successful?

"I don't think you will see any in the next few years. The China domestic market is huge and that is where most people are concentrating their attention.

"There are some Chinese exports to the Middle East, emerging markets in Asia Pacific and very small amounts to Europe at this stage. They will continue to test the market around the world but they are not yet ready to export in large numbers.

"However, if you look at the Japanese and Korean experience, it seems inevitable that Chinese-made vehicles will turn up at some stage and ultimately they will be competitive."

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