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Car workers steer way to new heights

There is little surprise that maintaining standards is one of Jaguar Land Rover's top priorities as it expands into China.

Companies export quality control to Chinese joint venture operations

The two companies that comprise Jaguar and Land Rover have together poured more than a century of effort into building their reputations, so there is little surprise that maintaining standards is one of the joint company's top priorities as it expands into China.

One of those ensuring that happens is Du Keke, a manufacturing safety monitor, who says his job has taught him a lot about craftsmanship and following strict procedures.

"We have to maintain consistency and standards in our records, so someone from another department can immediately see what's going on here," he says, pointing to a board covered with charts next to his desk.

Behind Du, who is training at Jaguar Land Rover's factory in Liverpool, is a team busy working on engines for new cars. As the assembly belt inches its way past Du, workers accompanying the car parts nod to him with a smile.

"We very rarely have accidents or malfunctions, so we record 'safe' generally," he says.

Du is one of 50 workers recently taken on from Jaguar Land Rover's China joint venture with Chery who are now training with the UK manufacturer, a three-month stint that began in August.

Jaguar Land Rover says the training is particularly important in transferring technology to its Chinese partner because it allows Chinese workers to understand the quality, work ethic and dedication the heritage brand demands of its workers.

Quality may come across as a vague concept, but Du says he is fully in tune with it in his training. To demonstrate the point, he looks down at the factory floor that is marked with yellow lines that separate walkways from areas restricted to cars.

"You see these lines? They don't seem like much, but they establish the rules and standards within the company, and reduce the chances of accidents," he says, adding that in Chinese car companies where he previously worked the rules were not as strict.

Foreign car makers are gradually introducing higher quality and standards to China through joint ventures. The experience of Du and his workmates at Chery Jaguar Land Rover illustrate how that is happening.

"Take a company like Jaguar Land Rover, which has a rich culture and heritage, and they take pride in their cars," says Jonathan Visscher, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK trade association for the automotive industry.

"They would want to ensure the quality of their cars when they go to China. The entry of brands such as Jaguar Land Rover to China really helps to raise the general standards for everyone in the industry, because there are more choices of high-quality cars for the Chinese, who will choose where to spend their money."

Chinese car buyers put a big premium on many Western car brands because they are regarded as being of the highest quality, given the companies' years of experience in serving customers, he says.

"In comparison, Chinese cars aren't perceived to have the same level of quality, because a lot of the brands are young. But Chinese cars are improving. When Chinese car manufacturers show their latest products at auto shows, they are seen as great products too."

Guillaume Saint, senior director of China automotive at the research organization TNS, says some Chinese car makers are trying to compete on price - and target the lower end of the market.

"They are very different from foreign car brands that stress their quality to target upper segments and more demanding customers," Saint says.

Chris Bryant, president of Chery Jaguar Land Rover, says delivering consistency of quality is a challenge the joint venture faces but, luckily China's car components industries are now maturing, so it is easier to build a quality local supply chain than it was a few decades ago when the first foreign car brands arrived in China.

The 1.1 billion pound ($1.6 billion) Chery Jaguar Land Rover project was announced last year.

The two partners plan to build a new factory in Changshu, near Shanghai. Exactly what car will be made there is yet to be announced, but 130,000 are expected to roll off the production line each year. It will become Jaguar Land Rover's first manufacturing base outside Britain. At its only other factory, in India, cars are only assembled.

The first Sino-Western automotive joint venture was set up in 1984 between Beijing Jeep Corporation and American Motors Corp. The joint venture has since changed hands several times and is now owned by Beiqi Foton Motor Co and Daimler AG.

Other joint ventures with Chinese companies include FAW Group Corporation with Volkswagen, formed in 1991, and Brilliance Auto with BMW AG, formed in 2003.

Last year, 14.68 million passenger vehicles were sold in China, 6.8 percent more than in the previous year, the China Passenger Car Association says. In the same period, 14.5 million vehicles were sold in the US and 12.5 million in Europe.

It is important for Chery Jaguar Land Rover, with such great opportunities, to maintain high standards through staff training, investing in research and development and creating a good supply chain, Bryant says.

Although Chery is an established brand in China, it is just 16 years old. Jaguar Land Rover was formed through a merger of two British brands founded in 1905 and 1922. "They are still learning how to launch products and build brands," Bryant says.

One of the core qualities Jaguar Land Rover is taking to China is the culture of the organization, something its competitors cannot copy.

"Jaguar Land Rover is just a big family at the end of the day," Bryant says. "We act as a family. As we expand into the global area, we add to that family, so making our Changshu factory a part of our family."

To help the Chinese trainees adapt to Liverpool and improve communication, Jaguar Land Rover has sought help from Chinese Wellbeing, a local community organization.

In September, Jaguar Land Rover organized a big celebration for its Chinese trainees during the Mid-Autumn Festival, an occasion that Chinese usually celebrate with family.

This care between colleagues and pride of working together is deeply felt by some of the Chinese staff on training.

Wang Pingyang, a Chinese trainee, says the training program has been very supportive. It has allocated a mentor to every trainee, increasing the chances to learn, he says.

"From what I have seen, workers in Britain are very dedicated and proud of their work. They want to do their best. I think dedication is an area in which Chinese workers fare poorly. I want to take this good attitude back to China and teach it to many more of my Chinese colleagues."

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