Au­tomak­ers hit notes in Man­darin for sales

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI FUSHENG and ERIK NILS­SON in Beijing

The drive by for­eign au­tomak­ers to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket speaks for it­self — in­creas­ingly in Man­darin.

It some­times even sings — such as when Ni­cholas Speeks, a Bri­ton who heads sales and mar­ket­ing for Mercedes-Benz in China, drew cheers on Mon­day by ser­e­nad­ing a crowd at Auto China in Beijing with the bal­lad Great China.

“We have the same home, and its name is China,” Speeks crooned in Man­darin to ap­plause at the com­pany’s booth at the show, which runs un­til May 4.

That was a day af­ter the brand’s new E-class car was un­veiled to the tune of the Chi­nese clas­sic song In the Field of Hope.

Par­tic­i­pants joked that the coun­try truly is “a field of hope” for Mercedes-Benz.

China be­came the au­tomaker’s largest mar­ket when it sold 373,500 ve­hi­cles on the main­land last year. Sixty-seven per­cent of its ve­hi­cles were man­u­fac­tured in China, 12 per­cent­age points more than in 2014.

The brand, whose name trans­lates as “go fast”, is not the only one at­tempt­ing to make new in­roads in one of the world’s largest and fastest-grow­ing auto mar­kets.

Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth ended his speech at the auto show on Mon­day by declar­ing in Man­darin, “I love China.” His speech cen­tered on the com­pany open­ing an alu­minum work­shop in Jiangsu prov­ince ear­lier this year, its first such plant out­side the United King­dom.

Speth also re­ferred to a say­ing used in both Chi­nese and West­ern cul­tures: “Teach­ing one how to fish is bet­ter than giv­ing fish to him.”

While he gave the quote in English, it is more gram­mat­i­cally aligned with the Chi­nese ver­sion, which states: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life.”

Language has fast be­come a ve­hi­cle for au­tomak­ers to lo­cal­ize in China.

Some con­tend that us­ing for­eign faces speak­ing in Man­darin to con­nect with cus­tomers is sim­ply a su­per­fi­cial gim­mick.

“Show­girls and celebri­ties have not been al­lowed at the auto show for the past two years. So car com­pa­nies are try­ing some­thing new to at­tract at­ten­tion,” said John Zeng, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Shang­hai-based con­sul­tancy LMC Au­to­mo­tive.

Zeng said it is a pre­dictable ploy to woo cus­tomers.

Auto an­a­lyst Zhang Zhiy­ong said the trend goes deeper than skep­tics be­lieve.

“Many car­mak­ers have lo­cal­ized, and such be­hav­ior is part of lo­cal­iza­tion. They cre­ate an emo­tional con­nec­tion, and peo­ple who speak the same language feel closer.”

He re­ferred to Daniel Kirchert. The for­mer head of China op­er­a­tions for Infiniti, the lux­ury divi­sion of Nis­san, is flu­ent in Man­darin and rarely speaks English in public.

“Demon­strat­ing an abil­ity to speak Chi­nese or show a knowl­edge of China helps a brand to lo­cal­ize,” Zhang said.

The head of BMW’s China op­er­a­tions, Olaf Kast­ner, stum­bled through an en­tire speech in Man­darin when the car­maker opened its en­gine plant in Jan­uary in Liaon­ing prov­ince, its first out­side Europe.

The com­pany’s Chi­nese name, Baoma, trans­lates as “pre­cious horse” — as in the type that pulls a lux­u­ri­ous car­riage.

Volk­swa­gen Group’s China head, Jochem Heiz­mann, said the com­pany is em­pow­er­ing re­gional mar­kets to be more de­mand­ing — hence its “madein-China” and “made-for-China” strate­gies.

Its Chi­nese name, Da Zhong, trans­lates as “great masses”, per­haps be­fit­ting of its sales as­pi­ra­tions in the Chi­nese mar­ket.

The com­pany said it plans to set up in­no­va­tion cen­ters in Beijing, Ger­many and the US.

“We view China as an in­cu­ba­tor for in­no­va­tion and new tech­nolo­gies, and as a source of so­lu­tions that can be trans­ferred to the world,” Heiz­mann said.

Lin­coln China’s pres­i­dent, Robert Parker, said, “Peo­ple were buy­ing ev­ery­thing brought here (China), but this con­tin­ues to di­min­ish. They are now (se­lec­tive) about prod­ucts, and they should be.”

Con­tact the writ­ers li­fusheng@chi­

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