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SAIC Motor shifts into high gear as it envisions a green, smart future

Wan Lixin
Every 70 seconds a new car can roll off the assembly lines in SAIC Motor's Lingang plant, a feat that enabled the automaker to sell over 1.2 million units in 100 countries in 2023.
Wan Lixin

Editor's note:

China is cultivating the development of new quality productive forces, referring to growth of higher quality driven by breakthrough innovations and comprehensive sustainability. Let's check out how businesses in Shanghai, which is base to many high-tech companies, fare on this route.

SAIC Motor shifts into high gear as it envisions a green, smart future
Wan Lixin

Chen Peifeng, director of the Lingang plant of SAIC Motor, explains the layout of the plant.

Every 70 seconds a new car will roll off the assembly lines in SAIC Motor's Lingang plant, a feat that enabled the automaker to sell over 1.2 million units to 100 countries last year.

The Lingang plant is one of SAIC Motor's passenger vehicles production bases, just a short distance from the sea in the Pudong New Area.

On May 22, as we inspected a small section of the labyrinthine line, along which vehicles moved at a measured pace, workers at different stations were busy tightening screws or marking spots, while the more complicated or heavier operations were left to robotic arms.

Although we could hardly hear the explanations of Chen Peifeng, director of the factory, given the hum of operations coming from every direction, as we walked within the marked lane, the procession of the steadily growing cars seemed less threatening than they are on the streets.

The only warning we had got from Chen at the beginning of the journey was that we should watch our step as the floor was waxed to protect the tires of the cars.

Modern assembly lines do not connote uniformity, as the vehicles, produced to order for individual customers, were in different colors, with specific material for upholstery and tires.

The robots installing the tires could fully satisfy customer requirements.

When a new car was finished, it would be driven a short distance, under heavy surveillance from all conceivable perspectives, as the car would internalize myriad adaptations fed into it.

"Like a baby, it has to flatten a learning curve, as it is fed various parameters and data that enable it to function properly on the road in the given country," Chen said.

In 2023, SAIC Motor marketed over 5 million car units, again the highest among all Chinese automakers for the 18th consecutive year. It was also a forerunner as an exporter, selling over 1.2 million units last year to 100 countries, again leading the pack among domestic makers, this time for eight consecutive years.

Not all passenger vehicles are made in the Lingang base. Launched in September 2008 and covering an area of 1.2 million square meters, the Lingang plant is the smallest among the automaker's four globally leading digitalized plants in China, although its state-of-the-art productive capacity points to the future of China's auto industry.

Since it was launched, Chen said, the Lingang plant has become a highly adaptable manufacturing base whose ambition is to become a leading Chinese branding base sustained by SAIC's forte in traditional technology, and its advanced strength in new energy vehicles.

Given its heavy stake in traditional cars, SAIC Motor's transition to new energy is nothing short of spectacular, thanks to its shrewd assessment a decade ago that NEVs would be a gamechanger in making China a powerful automaker, instead of just a major automaker, according to Guan Yizhong, the SAIC Motor general manager for publicity.

SAIC Motor shifts into high gear as it envisions a green, smart future
Wan Lixin

Guan Yizhong, SAIC Motor's general manager for publicity, talks about SAIC Motor's overseas sales.

When SAIC launched its first joint venture, SAIC Volkswagen, in 1985, China could independently fabricate only four of the over 10,000 auto parts, among them the steering wheel and the tail badge.

A decade of its commitment to new energy has made the company wholly self-sufficient in term of new-energy vehicles.

Nor is this the final goal of SAIC's aspiration, as cars become increasingly smart.

"The car of tomorrow will cease to be a cold machine, but something warm with which you can communicate with, like your smart phone, though with a passion," said Guan. He said that an SAIC New Energy Technology Conference would be held on the evening of May 24, to celebrate its past decade of glory and new aspirations.

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