Editor ‘arris recently spent five days in Taiwan courtesy of KYMCO to check out their factory, ride a few scoots and well, some other things …
On paper it all looked a bit daunting.
After a 5-hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver there would follow a 5-hour wait in Vancouver airport. Not until the painful hour of 1:30 a.m. (yes, a.m.) were we to board our flight to Taiwan that wouldn’t see tarmac again until another 13 hours or so later.
Oh and then it’s another 3-hour wait for a 45-minute connecting flight to the final destination city of Kaohsiung. In total, that meant about 27 hours traveling time … but then we would be on the other side of the planet.
This was KYMCO Canada’s press ‘coming of age’ – the importer of KYMCO scooters, motorcycles and ATVs’ first press launch – a trip to the manufacturing company’s home turf for five days of … well, I’m not quite sure.
The press invitation details were a bit cryptic, a factory tour of not only KYMCO’s facilities but also Kenda tires (for some unknown reason) were clearly listed, as well as a day on the beach, but it all seemed an awfully long way to go just to see a production line.
KAOHSIUNG OR BUST
After adding a restful stopover in Vancouver, a mere seventeen hours after my journey began, I found myself in Kaohsiung looking through bloodshot eyes at a rather dirty Love River (yes, that is what the main aquatic artery through Kaohsiung is actually called), while our KYMCO hosts wondered what exactly to do with us for the three hours before hotel check-in.
So we stood on the sidewalk and watched flocks of scooters flow through chaotic junctions. Granted, in this state we could have watched anything and still have been amused, but in Taiwan the scooter rules, so much so that it even gets its own dedicated lane on the roadways.
Watching scooter meet car at the intersections is like watching big fish swim through schools of smaller fish – they somehow magically make way for each other, without anyone getting hurt … mostly. Perhaps the most bizarre thing is that no one uses their horns here. It makes for an oddly quiet experience yet with so much going on.
Still, check in couldn’t come soon enough and it was to bed for a few hours before dragging my jet-lagged arse out of bed and to the hotel bar where all the journos had agreed to meet up.
Apparently of the four journalists present (Nika – Toronto Star, Amyot – Moto123, Neil Graham – Cycle Canada and myself) only two us were alcoholics as the other two opted to not show in favour of actual sleep. Man, it’s a sad day when a journalist takes sleep over a drink.
For dinner we were joined by a couple of KYMCO factory reps (all dressed in official white pants and shirt), and all very nice, despite looking somewhat like some extras from a Connery-era Bond film.
What I found a bit odd was that our Taiwanese hosts all had western names in addition to their given Taiwanese names. Apparently they make up their western name – with no necessary relation to their original name – the results in this case being Stan and MacGyver.
Yes, you read that last one right, MacGyver and in honour of the TV character to boot! I couldn’t wait to get to the factory to meet Buffy, Kojak and Spock …
In an attempt to show equal respect to our hosts, Neil Graham and myself adopted the Taiwanese names of Hello Kitty (Neil’s, in honour of Taiwan’s favourite pussy) and Pho Phish (myself, in honour of brave attempt by Taiwanese cooks to accommodate my vegetarianism that night).
Back at the hotel again, I found a note had been slipped under the door from hotel management.
As typhoon HAGUPIT is approaching our island, we expect strong and rainy winds from the southeast. The temperature in your room will be slightly affected and wind flow noises will occur from time to time. However, we can assure you that the building is perfectly safe since its structure was designed to sustain both earthquakes and typhoons.”
Oh, that’s okay then.
The expected hotel swaying and wind lashing the next morning wasn’t happening. In fact it was sunny. This oddly disappointed me. After all, the hotel reckoned it could take Hagupit and being on the 55th floor I was ensured a good view of all the action.
The weather forecast showed that the typhoon was now heading just south of the island but its swirly bits should still be able to swipe the southern tip (that’s us) with some heavy winds and rains. Okay, maybe after lunch then, but for now let’s presume that the official factory tour is still on.
As with all press trips, I found myself entering the buffet breakfast still digesting the meal from the night before but yet unable to resist a made-to-order omelet, home fries and a dollop of baked beans.
Stuffed to the brim I waddled out of the hotel to the two awaiting white KYMCO minivans and was whisked across town to KYMCO headquarters, which proudly displayed a “welcome journalists from Canada” across its entrance with a Canadian flag to the side.
I felt special.
I loosened my belt.
It’s probably a good time to mention the KYMCO uniform. All KYMCO workers – including the president – dress in the same uniform of white pants and shirt. The differences come with the hats, with red meaning an inspector, green permanent, and yellow a student … which I believe is the hierarchy order too.
Oh, all the journalists were given black hats to wear, which I’d like to think is above red, but more likely below yellow.
Our factory tour kicked off in the boardroom with a video presentation about KYMCO followed by a Q & A session.
I learnt three things:
1) KYMCO is an acronym for the Kwang Yang Motor Company, which is why it’s always written in caps (sadly nothing to do with shouting it out).
2) KYMCO is a pretty big company with over 2,500 employees and several production facilities scattered around Southeast Asia. In these facilities they make about 30% of the parts they use (including all the big ones like the motors, frames and body panels) and then assemble them to the finished product.
The company was founded in 1963 to produce parts for Honda, but in 1989 it started to produce its own motorcycles and is now the largest manufacturer of 2-wheelers in Taiwan, and the fifth largest in the world. KYMCO currently makes over 40 scooter models, over a dozen motorcycles and nearly 20 different types of ATVs.
3) They’re very nervous about any perceptions of inferior quality. It’s the China thing. Whether it’s killer baby milk, lead in toys, or motorcycles that fall apart within a year, China’s reputation for quality and reliability isn’t exactly stellar.
Okay, time for a quick geography/history lesson;
Up until the end of World War 2 Taiwan was actually claimed and governed by the Japanese. After their plans for greater domination failed in the big bangs of 1945, the Japanese were forced to relinquish control of Taiwan at which point the Republic of China (R.O.C.) jumped in.
However, a few years later China went into revolution and the communists successfully ousted the R.O.C. government, who subsequently fled to Taiwan. The communists then set up a new government called the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.).
The P.R.C. then claims the R.O.C. are an illegitimate government (and so not legally in control of Taiwan), but the R.O.C. says the opposite and make themselves at home (albeit without any of the inconveniences of democracy).
In 1988 Taiwan finally became a democracy and has since run as an independent state, but the question of who’s ultimately in charge has never been settled, with China threatening military action every time Taiwan threatens to do the obvious and declare itself an independent state.
Suffice to say that as far as China’s reputation for poor quality goods go, it would be unfair to project that across to Taiwan. In fact, KYMCO also manufactures stuff for some better known brands such as the motor in BMW’s new 450 dirt bike and some ATVs for Kawasaki and Arctic Cat.
You’d think they’d be shouting such facts from the rooftops, but the KYMCO management managed to sidestep the question during the Q & A, worried that they might fall foul of any agreement in place to maybe make some units for an outside company … if they were to do such a thing … not that they do … etc, etc.
Not willing to totally reject an obviously powerful endorsement, the management did add that they have learnt a lot about quality production from such alliances with outside producers … if they were to do such a thing … not that they do … etc, etc.
With that issue finally resolved it was time for a tour of the factory.
ONE SCOOTER EVERY 46 SECONDS
Our tour started at the foundry section located in a huge hanger, where we saw lines of castings and pressings slide out from stacks of army-green machines. They then went on to be trimmed, machined or welded, before ultimately being passed over to the next building on the lot – the assembly line.
It was a bit like a Dickensian version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only the Umpah Lumpahs didn’t sing, dance or look overly merry and sadly there was scant amounts of chocolate to be found too.
Despite my obvious disappointment, I still found it all fascinating. Waves of dry heat blasted though the damp humidity, machines chewed noisily on sheets of steel as a beehive of workers attended to their needs – steel sheet in, pressed fuel tank out, molten aluminum in, finned cylinder out. Very cool … err, or hot.
I’m not sure if there’s any reward system in place here, but if I were working in this building, my number one goal would be to be promoted to the machining room. Clean and air-conditioned – to ensure that the bits they’re working on are free of heat induced dimension changes – this area was surely heaven in the hot clanking hell that surrounded it.
Onwards to building number two!
Free of furnaces, the assembly line building is somewhat more civilized, and includes the painting and injection molding departments. It’s a somewhat surreal experience as skeletons of scooters hanging off a conveyor belt swoop down from the rafters to a long line of white clothed workers, each getting less than a minute to do what they need to do.
Once a scooter is fully equipped, it ends up at the testing station where each one is fired up and tested for emissions as well as inspected for fully operational mechanicals, electricals and fit and finish.
Time for lunch. Hey, where’s Hagupit?
Tune in next week for the concluding part of KYMCO’s Taiwan where ‘arris rides some of the new scoots on the KYMCO test track, some of their ATV’s in the dunes and an unforgettable tour of the Kenda tire plant … “Vietnam … 26%”!