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American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China

ISBN: 978-0-470-82861-8
227 pages
July 2011
American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China (0470828617) cover image
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. 

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. 

 

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Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

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

Index 219

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Michael J. Dunne is President of Dunne & Company Ltd., a Hong Kong–based 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.

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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

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August 08, 2011
American Wheels Chinese Roads

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 http://as.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470828617.html 

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 

This book is available in Hardcover and eBook formats.

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