Changing Perception: The Foton-Beijing Experience
Simpletons can easily dismiss Chinese cars as rubbish; after all, their perception may have been shaped by models that first came out. However, like Japanese and Korean brands of today, the Chinese has come a long way—considering they only started producing cars seriously in the 1970’s. That said, for some the stigma is still there and that is exactly what Foton Motor Philippines (FMP) wants to address. Beyond the affordable prices, FMP shows that Chinese cars can also be proud of its world-class production facilities and systems—some of which can go head-to-head with the best in the world.
A group of Philippine automotive journalists was invited to tour the headquarters of the Beiqi Foton Motor as well as its two production facilities in Beijing, China. In addition, they were also treated to an intimate press conference with the Chinese management to outline their plans for the Philippine market. In the end, the message is clear: Foton has the capability to become one of the world’s premiere commercial vehicle brands.
A Long Way Forward
Established in 1996, Beiqi Foton Motor Co. or more commonly known as Foton is a relatively young brand. Yet, in just 14 years, they have become the world’s second largest commercial vehicle brand (second only to Daimler AG) and China’s biggest. The state-owned company has sold more than 2.65-million vehicles and currently employs more than 26,000 people. With heavy investments towards research and development, Foton is now exported to 120 different countries around the world. In 2008, Daimler AG signed a contract with Foton to take 24 percent of the company making it the company’s second largest shareholder. Additionally, Foton has also entered into a partnership with Cummins to produce heavy duty diesel engines in China.
Located in the Changping District on the hilly outskirts of Beijing, Foton’s headquarters is nothing short of impressive. In size alone, it is nothing short of massive with everything on a five kilometer stretch having ‘Foton’ on it: manufacturing plants, offices, housing, railways and even a hotel! By all intents and purposes, it is a full-blown city akin to the Toyota City in Japan.
The tour started with the MPX facility where Foton produces its award-winning passenger carrier from start to finish. Immediately, the scale of production as well as the labor-intensive processes is apparent. Though Foton assures that it could easily switch to robots and automation for its plants, because it is partly state-owned, they have to keep some of its manufacturing processes manual up to a certain percentage. This is to protect the local employment. However, this fact does not seem to affect the MPX’s production which moves with tick-tock precision.
Using ‘Just in Time’ or JIT practices, a system pioneered by Toyota, Foton is able to keep its efficiency and quality up. At this modern facility, three different MPX variants with two different engines and various other configurations can be made. Everything from assembly to paint to glass assembly is done within the premises. At the moment, the View and Midi (a 7-seater small car that’s slated to enter the Philippine market later this year) are also being assembled alongside the MPX. However, because of the high demand for the MPX, production of these two vehicles will be moved to another plant soon. The story is equally impressive when the group moved to where Foton assembles its Auman series trucks which is a further hour’s drive from its headquarters.
Commercial Vehicle Leader
In the Philippines, Foton found a partner in United Asia Automotive Group, Inc. (UAAGI) also known as Foton Motor Philippines as its exclusive distributor. According to President and CEO Rommel Sytin, the distributorship of Foton commercial vehicles is just a stepping stone to one of FMP’s main goals which is to eventually manufacture vehicles in the Philippines for both local and export markets.
Using its strategic export hub in the Subic Bay Freeport, FMP has recently opened a ten-hectare manufacturing facility. Additionally, FMP has a training facility in Subic as well as a vehicle storage, testing, service training and parts warehouse in Valenzuela, Bulacan. FMP’s main showroom and service center is located in Balintawak, Quezon City.
Since operations started in 2006, FMP has now grown to include 14 dealerships and over 90 accredited service centers nationwide. All in all, they offer highly focused diesel commercial vehicles such as the Blizzard pick-up, the entry-level MPV of the year, MPX and other business-oriented vehicles such as the Wind, Tornado, Cyclone and Hurricane.
This year, Foton hopes to sell more than 800,000 vehicles, 20 percent of which will be sold for export. And this is just the start of Foton Motor’s ambitious five-year plan. Within this time frame, Foton Motor aims to develop both its brand name as well as its intellectual property portfolio. Moreover, Foton is constantly changing and itself to have a truly flexible system adjustable to global competition.
In the Philippines, the inauguration of Foton Motor Philippines is the fruit of over 20 years of experience in the automotive industry by the Sytin family. They believe that introducing a brand such as Foton is the future. After all, though Chinese brands are still in a relative infancy compared to those in Japan and Europe, they have the most to learn. And if there’s one thing about the Chinese, they’re fast learners.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang
Originally Published in The Philippine Star