Blog: The Beijing blog
Chris Wright | 25 April 2012
Our adventurer saw the Great Wall Wingle; his photographer saw the wall itself...
Wednesday 25 April
That's me sorted. Done all I need to do at the conference and heading back to the hotel to put my feet up. Ant should be in the air now, winging his way homewards. I have it all to do tomorrow. After yesterday's appalling weather it really is quite nice outside and you can actually see blue sky above. Maybe a walk then.
Here I am back at the Automotive News China conference, feeling a lot better than I ought to after a few beers out with Ant last night. He arranged for us to meet at his favourite Italian restaurant - well, he's been there once before - and I set out into the night. First stop was the concierge to translate the address into Mandarin. I've done this before you know.
That done, a mile long queue for a cab and when it did arrive the driver hadn't got a clue re the address. The doorman had a go before disappearing back into the hotel to get a map. I meanwhile am wondering how far away it is and how much it's going to cost. Finally on the way and the driver stops twice to look at the map then gets a call on his mobile, the ring tone appeared to be a small child hurling abuse at him. Bizarrely the restaurant is all of four minutes drive from the hotel! I could probably have walked it.
After food we hit a couple of bars, the second of which was a country and western pub called Nashville - and why not when you're in Beijing? Performing on stage were two middle aged guitar playing Chinese women which didn't bode well but they had just the most brilliant country voices. Tried some local beers and one brew in particular was quite challenging, then it was time to have fun with another taxi driver. You would have thought he would know the Westin Hotel? He did, actually, but not before I finally got the message across by saying it in the worst Chinese accent that you'll ever hear.
Tuesday 24 April
At the reception following the Automotive News China conference I bumped into former General Motors Europe chief Nick Reilly. Nick, who was also MD at Vauxhall for a while, retired a couple of months ago but he is obviously not spending his time tending the garden. He has got a couple of gigs with companies looking to expand their presence in China and Asia. Nor is he being the typical retired Brit and decamping to Spain or the South of France - he's going to live in Kuala Lumpur.
I'm glad I've been inside all day, it's absolutely tipping down outside. I can't image what it must be like for those who had stands outside at the show - I wonder if some people had to make the long walk again? Apparently that happened a couple of years ago.
My hosts at JLR have kindly put a Range Rover and driver at my disposal so I'm lording it around town. Automotive News conference is interesting, I'm learning how to sell cars in China, you never know it might come in handy one day. Ant has been sweeping up on the pix then looking to see if there's anything we can do tonight. I have been to Beijing many times but still haven't worked out my way around. Ant has already braved the metro after taking a roundabout route into town via a taxi from his hotel to the airport, then the train into the centre before disappearing underground.
Pretty swanky place called Capital M last night but a very relaxed atmosphere after a hard day at the show. Have taken an executive decision not to go back into the show today having done all I could yesterday. I just couldn't stand the hour long drive back out there. Most of the other journos on the JLR trip have caught the bomber home today. At lunchtime I am off to the Automotive News China conference across town which will be running today and tomorrow. It should provide a good insight into the market here.
Monday 23 April
Well, that's the last interview of the day, with Tony Williams who heads up the design for MG and Roewe here in China. He's now based in Shanghai rather than Birmingham and says it's a bit different but good fun.
Have been charging around a bit too much to see if I can spot any odd vehicles, actually charging is not the right word - trying to dodge through the seething mass of humanity more like. I did see something that looks incredibly like a Mini while my favourite name was the Great Wall Wingle [domestic version of the Steed pickup truck just launched here in UK - ed]. What on earth was GM thinking by putting a lurid green Chevrolet Camaro on the front of their stand?
I never did see Ant again but I see from the site he has been working away, bless him. I think he half knackered himself yesterday climbing the Great Wall, the real one, not the cars. He had to order in a takeaway Italian last night - now there's a different spin on things.
One thing I do know is that I am in desperate need of a shower and other amenities: How can you let about a million people into a show and only have two urinals in each of the toilets? Oh, and don't put carpets on the toilet floor.
There's an informal trough with JLR this evening - a beer might be in order as well.
A bit like the Delhi show earlier this year, I feel some way out of my comfort zone trying to find out what is going on. Try as we might, no one has actually been able to unearth a press conference list, there's not even anything on the organiser's website. Finally found one, of sorts, given to me by Ford PR man Craig Von Essen and guess what? Most of the conferences are at the same time in different halls! Never mind, there's not a lot of point in going to them as my mandarin is non-existent. As I feared, the place is rammed with people and getting around is not easy. It has also become fiercely hot.
Some, it seems, we're not as lucky as us. Just bumped in to [Volkswagen UK's] Paul Buckett who took three hours to get in from the centre of the city. His crew were not allowed along the closed roads and had to hoof the last 40 minutes - good job it wasn't raining. Met up with camera man Anthony Holdgate and have left him snapping away following our lavish brunch in the on-site MacDonalds.
I am totally confused. The place we went to yesterday to collect our credentials (I got the passport back, by the way) was not actually the show halls, despite having 'Auto China' emblazoned all over it. This was a shame as it was only about 10 minutes from the hotel. The actual show is out near the airport, about an hour on a coach away. But how cool is this, we had a police escort complete with blues and twos. Despite the roads around the show being closed, we got the full VIP treatment right up to the doors.
Sunday 22 April
It's midnight and the plan for the early night has gone out the window. I blame those JLR girls. Just come back from the press conference with Victoria Beckham. Huge crowd outside - for her not me. Plan is to head for the show at 7am. I sooooo looking forward to that.
Just spent the morning in JLR's largest dealership in the world in Beijing. It's massive and the showroom alone can hold 20 cars. The customers get pretty well looked after as well. There’s a restaurant, lounge area with wi-fi, a table tennis table (of course) and even a massage room – you won’t get one of those in Honest Joe’s used car lot. It is apparently a nice day, hot and the sun is shining – although you still can’t actually see it, or, indeed, any blue sky, just the smog and an endless cascade of blossom coming from the trees. As I was in China I thought it would be good to have a curry at lunchtime. Actually, the hotel restaurant has a full English roast on offer complete with Yorkshire pudding but I resisted the urge. In fact today was “bubble-iscous” day in the restaurant, hence the bizarre appearance of a girl in a bubble in the hotel foyer – a somewhat surreal site. Even so I still didn’t quite get the “bubble” bit apart from another girl walking around the restaurant in a see-thru ra-ra skirt – she did have a leotard on as well. It was covered in teaspoons.
I really should stop smoking that stuff...
Next it was back in the fleet of Jaguars and Land Rovers to go to the show to collect credentials. Unfortunately there was a queue that appeared to be several miles long which didn’t bode well given how hot it was outside. Fortunately a very nice man from JLR China collected up all our passports and said he would sort it all out for us and sent us back to the hotel... at least I think he was from JLR.
Saturday 21 April
Saturday afternoon and we were stuck in a huge traffic jam! It took considerably longer than expected to get back to the hotel from the press conference but at least there was an hour or so to relax before dinner with the JLR top bods via another traffic jam. Have to say most of us were flagging come pudding. Haven't seen Ant yet, although we have exchanged emails - he tells me he's nice and close to the runway at Beijing airport, in fact he has to keep his windows open so the aircraft can pass through on landing and take-off. He's been doing the sight-seeing thing and is off to the Great Wall in the morning... don't they make cars?
17.00 (Chinese Standard Time) Beijing
That went well, nice list of films to watch on the flight and, er, I fell asleep and didn't wake up until landing time! Still, the time passed quickly. Beijing, as ever, covered in smog so I have no idea what the weather is actually like. No time to rest, it's straight out to the first press conference with Land Rover chief designer Gerry McGovern telling us about the new special edition Evoque, the first fruits of the collaboration with Victoria Beckham. Looks pretty good as well and the Land Rover people are genuinely impressed with Victoria's input. Brand director John Edwards told me they have learned a lot from her about protecting the brand - she is very focused. We'll get to meet her at tomorrow's event.
Friday 20 April
14.28 (GMT) Heathrow airport
So, here we go again - on the road once more for the next round of the 2012 motor shows. Just checked into the BA lounge at T5, already spotted a couple of fellow travellers across a crowded room - PFPR out in in force with Peters Frater and Rawlinson, Ray Massey and Land Rover MD John Edwards. Bound to be a few more before long.
Looks like a busy schedule ahead with a couple of JLR events on Saturday and Sunday followed by the show proper on Monday and Tuesday followed by the Automotive News conference. You'll be able to read all about it on just-auto of course. Lensman Anthony Holdgate is a day ahead of me, probably still sleeping off the effects of the horse tranquillisers he takes to get him through economy class. I, on the other hand, am in the officers mess - you wouldn't expect anything less, surely?
No Lewis or Stansfield with me this time, dammit, looks like I'm going to have to do some work .......