Farewell to Taiwan

The media team pictured on the final leg of the trip at Federal, Taiwan's premier tyre manufacturer.

Having completed the final two days of a trip exploring Taiwan’s automotive supply chains, The Manufacturer’s James Pozzi discovers the dominance of GPS manufacturing on the island and also visits a tyre manufacturer with lofty ambitions.

As I write at the conclusion of my TAITRA media tour of Taiwan, the eclectic mix of visits I have undertaken throughout the last five days have given me an intricate insight into the workings of Taiwanese manufacturing.

Encompassing a production range spanning across GPS navigation, batteries and tyres, it appears every part of a great majority of the world’s car manufacturers is influenced in some way by Taiwan.

Thursday

With the trip’s lightest schedule so far in view of the long three hour drive back north to Taipei from Taichung, E-Lead, based in nearby Chanhua, was the venue for the day’s sole visit.

Producing GPS systems for automotive vehicles, the company is one of many big manufacturers producing satellite navigation systems on the island.

Established in 1983, E-Lead makes infotainment navigation, backseat video entertainment and numerous accessories for clients including Ford, Honda and Volkswagen.

With 500 patents on products worldwide, the company has had a long tradition for quality, priding itself on consistency and its advanced policies on quality.

Phillip Wu of E-Lead demonstrates the company's products.

Speaking at its imposing headquarters, Felipe Wu, E-Lead’s vice-president, said the shortage of high volume British car manufacturers has stunted the growth of the company’s presence in this country.

Around the EU, the high safety regulations which has so far resulting a resistance from the continent to indulge in in-car entertainment were also a factor for its smaller market share, Mr Wu added.

With plans to approach Toyota to work in the Middle Eastern market, E-Lead – like many other Taiwanese manufacturers- has its sights set firmly on South America and nations such as Brazil, predicted as one of the great economic powerhouses of the next 20 years.

Friday

Back in Taiwan’s capital city for the final day, we paid a visit to yet another GPS manufacturer in the Papago! Company, as well as leading Taiwanese tyre producer Federal.

Papago! Is a relatively new player in the satellite navigation market, having been established in Taiwan in 2001.

Intriguingly, it is ran as through a flat management structure, which eliminates a hierarchal setup within the company, and focuses on the introduction of a constant stream of new products.

Rex Hou, the company’s sales manager, showed assembled journalists products from the company’s range designed at helping existing drivers improve their ability behind the wheel.

A typical Papago! GPS device.

Using a recording device in-built within the car, the software films the driver’s road vision, so they can study any mistakes and look at errors, while also sending alerts to the driver of any upcoming speed cameras.

Like with many companies, there appears to be something of a culture clash with the EU nations and their diligent attitude towards driver safety.

Mr Hou said the company has big markets in countries such as Russia, which has lesser safety regulations in comparison, along with higher speed limits making the improvement tool more useful to the driver.

One thing is certain from my experiences in Taiwan is that the GPS market is heading in the same direction as mobile phones and television: catering for every scenario need of the consumer by combining multiple products.

After a lunch which included sampling from Taiwan’s emerging wine industry, we drove 40 minutes in the surrounding Taipei Country to visit the home of Federal, the country’s largest tyre manufacturer.

Finally, we arrived at the Federal Tyre facility just outside of Taipei, where we were greeted by images of movie star Jackie Chan’s preceding visit upon entering reception, as well as a bust of company founder Ma Chi San.

About to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Federal enjoys by far its biggest market share in North America, totalling 45% to following European region’s 16%.

Having technical co-operation over product design and manufacturing with industry giants Bridgestone and Dunlop, the company has increased its exposure in North America through sponsoring high profile venues and events, such as Warner Brothers world and motor races.

The Federal team talk the press.

Despite its lonevity in a notoriously competitive market, Federal is intent on re-branding its image in the UK market, where it currently has just one agent.

Daniel Yeh, the company’s section specialist, said: “When we spoke to some UK agents, their first reaction was that our tyre was very cheap and affordable, and that’s not what we want to be known for.”

“Once you have that stigma surrounding your reputation regardless of whether it is right or wrong, it remains difficult to shake off.”

As we rounded off the visit, the picture painted during my week in Taiwan is of  thriving manufacturing base contributing towards everyday global products stretching across the automotive supply chain.

And yet, an employee at Federal informed me of a mini-exodus occurring, with manufacturers relocating from the island to the mainland of China becoming a more regular occurrence.

Attracting by the still relatively low cost of producing in the country, Taiwan, for so long a world class manufacturing hub where international companies brought their products to be made, now faces its own uncertainties in the coming years and decades.