American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China
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.
No small part of GM’s success in China springs 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
on 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 worlds 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 presents readers with fascinating illustrations of what to expect when Chinese cars, companies, and business people arrive on our shores.
Part One Rules of the Chinese Road 5
1 Scaling New Heights 7
2 Many Detroits 13
3 Getting a Foothold—In Quicksand 17
4 The Back Door 23
5 The Hook 31
6 A Reality Show 41
Part Two Pole Position, Yellow Flags 51
7 The Kit Price 53
8 Putting Shanghai First 65
9 Signing the Deal 73
10 Two Sons 81
Part Three Negotiating the Obstacle Course 91
11 The Launch 93
12 Fiefdoms 105
13 Paper Cups 115
14 The Chery Surprise 125
15 Porsches and Sweet Potatoes 137
16 Getting Their Arms Around China 147
Part Four Quick Acceleration, Then a Tight Corner 155
17 The Best and Worst of Times 157
18 Miniature Vehicles 167
19 A Chill Wind 175
20 The Favor 179
Part Five The End of the Beginning 189
21 A Memory Palace 191
22 The Great Tide 195
23 Electric Cars and Elevators 205
Conclusion: The End of the Beginning 213
Michael J. Dunne is President of Dunne & Company Ltd., a Hong Kongbased investment advisory firm specializing in Asia's car markets.
Three weeks after earning an MBA from the University of Michigan in the summer of 1990, Michael boarded a flight to Asia. He soon founded Automotive Resources Asia (ARA), a car consultancy. ARA expanded operations in China and Southeast Asia over the next decade and, in 2006, was acquired by J.D. Power and Associates.
Michael's opinions have been published in the Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune and Automotive News. He was also featured in an acclaimed National Geographic documentary on China's car culture.
A native of Detroit, Michael speaks Chinese and Thai. He worked in Beijing and Shanghai during the 1990s and 2000s and currently divides his time between China and Jakarta, Indonesia, where he lives with his wife, Merlien, and their three children.
—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
—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
—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
—Rob Schmitz, China Bureau Chief, Marketplace/American Public Media
In 1991, General Motors had racked up a staggering $25 billion in losses. By 2009, the company was mired in bankruptcy. On the opposite side of the globe however, GM’s subsidiary in China was experiencing explosive growth as its automobiles flowed into the market, feeding the demand of eager, value-conscious Chinese consumers. In 2010, GM would sell one million cars – Chevys, Buicks and Cadillacs – to the Chinese.
How can a company suffer crippling losses in one continent while setting soaring sales and profit records in another? In American Wheels Chinese Roads, Asian car market analyst, Michael J. Dunne, tells the fascinating story of how America’s iconic company embarked on an extraordinary journey to pursue the dream of conquering the world’s biggest market in one of the world’s toughest business climates.
GM’s path to automotive success in China was far from smooth. One of the first challenges it had to grapple with was the fact that in China, the government not only makes the rules for the auto industry, but the Chinese government is itself a competitor in that industry. And so GM found itself in the discomfiting situation of having its business partner, the City of Shanghai, play the role of both ally and competitor. How GM dealt with this reality on a day-to-day basis, how it was – sometimes painfully – forced to shift paradigms of business strategy and political relationships to navigate the complexities of a new commercial landscape and how it thrived despite these odds, is documented in captivating detail with enormous insight and often, humor.
Those interested in international business and those intending to do business in China or with the Chinese in any capacity will glean a wealth of information from this revealing testimony of GM’s experience during last decade’s great Chinese car boom without having to go through any of the associated frustrations and pain of business dealings in the People’s Republic.
Additional book information can be found at
About the Author:
Michael J. Dunne is president of Dunne & Company Ltd., a Hong Kong-based investment advisory firm specializing in the Asian car market. Michael arrived in Asia in 1990, just three weeks after earning his MBA from the University of Michigan. He soon founded car consultancy Automotive Resources Asia (ARA). Over the next decade, ARA expanded operations in China and Southeast Asia and was acquired by J.D. Power and Associates in 2006.
Michael’s opinions have been published in the Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune and Automotive News. He has also been featured in an acclaimed National Geographic documentary on China’s car culture.
A native of Detroit, Michael also has a Masters in Chinese Language and Literature. He speaks Chinese, Thai and French and is currently learning Bahasa Indonesia. He worked in Beijing and Shanghai in the 1990s and 2000s and currently divides his time between China and Jakarta, Indonesia, where he lives with his wife and three children.
American Wheels Chinese Roads
The Story of General Motors in China
By Michael J. Dunne
Wiley; August 2011
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