Blog: Tycoon on the phone
Simon Warburton | 5 February 2013
Nizhny Novgorod comes to life early, so it was a crack of sparrows start this morning to visit the Gorky Automobil Zavod or GAZ Group plant.
We arrived to find the site in full anticipation of today's razzmatazz launch of GAZ's Chevrolet Aveo, with CEO Bo Andersson somewhat unexpectedly bounding onto a stage to the theme tune of American TV series, Dallas.
GM Russia president, Jim Bovenzi, also spoke as did the Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, Valezy Shantsev, following which, us English-speaking press were taken to a separate room for an interview with GAZ parent company, Russian Machines' CEO, Siegfried Wolf.
I also had my first conversation with a Russian tycoon - GAZ investor Oleg Derispaska - who came booming down the line to us from Moscow and had some interesting comments on whether or not he would consider investing in European automotive companies - as Russian Railways has just done in France with PSA and Gefco. Short answer is, he probably wouldn't for the time being.
Walking to GAZ's motor museum on the city's incredibly icy streets will see me don a pair of more robust shoes tomorrow, although the Russians seem to glide about with no problem, biting wind and some slippery sidewalks are dealt with in some ease by these hardy residents.
There was a huge snowstorm yesterday in Moscow that delayed a lot of media until the early hours of this morning with one correspondent in the Russian capital telling me it was the worst in a year.
The GAZ museum was fascinating - from an early licenced Ford model to the Victory car built towards the end of World War II - the only problem being hardly anyone was able to buy it - or even drive on decent roads.
No such trivialities fazed the Soviet elite it appears, who had access to some fabulous GAZ limos, such as the Chaika or Seagull, to power about on presumably virtually empty streets.
There's a dinner scheduled in about 40min with GAZ CEO, Bo Andersson and after hearing his comments in Detroit recently, it will be interesting to see what his take is on industrial relations in particular.
Bo is always entertaining, so will report back tomorrow on what he had to say.
By the way, a propos of nothing, there's a somewhat bizarre Scottish-themed bar in the hotel here, replete with a huge saltire and bedecked in tartan. Unusual to say the least.
I'm starting to get a small idea of the scale of things here in China, but really, I'm only scratching the surface of this vast country....
Given the startling complexity of obtaining a journalist visa for China - the code 'J2' is now indelibly stamped on my mind - it was with some surprise how swiftly I managed to sail through airport im...