The road to independent R&D is full of twists and turns. Despite that those who make it can have independent capacity of design and development, but that road is so hard that no one is guaranteed success.
Then why FAW Jiefang Automobile Co., Ltd. Wuxi Diesel Engine Works (FAWDE) can be so persuasive as to define the industrial new standards? Why is FAWDE able to make constant innovations to lead new trends in the industry? Why is the company freely choosing Chinese auto parts manufacturers and technologies? In a word, why is FAWDE able to realize independent development?
Two problems lie behind the phenomenon. First, why do most heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers choose to import engines? Second, why do those who insist in independent R&D (including those who leave it unfinished) not have positive R&D capacity? Let’s take FAWDE as an example to see how difficult it is to stick to independent R&D.
Independent R&D: easier said than done
Currently, the domestic heavy-duty diesel engine market is dominated by foreign brands as most Chinese diesel engine makers have ended up importing overseas engines.
Indeed, independent R&D is so arduous and slow to achieve; more important, it is too risky since no one can guarantee independently produced engines can be marketable.
Therefore, every entrepreneur who sticks to independent R&D has to make great endeavors by constantly thinking and acting for years. During the process, they also have to face frustration from domestic rivals, competing pressure from foreign players as well as many questions put forward by high-level leaders, cooperation partners and even employees.
FAWDE has always faced the question of whether its engines can contend with imported ones. To FAWDE director Qian Hengrong, the answer has always been confident: FAWDE is able to do it.
As for reasons behind his confidence, Qian concludes that FAWDE’s firm belief in independence leading to freedom as well as its right choice of a road that it is more important to build a system than making engines. It is the constant improvement of the system that injects confidence and passion into the company to stick to this road.
Building systems outweighs making engines
In 1996, FAWDE started its R&D of Euro V CA6DL via a joint effort with AVL; it achieved successful positive R&D of 8L Euro V in 2001; then it independently developed 9L, 11L and 13L Euro V engines by leveraging resources under the overall planning of FAW Technology Center.
In Qian’s opinion, his company was able to independently produce engines of different displacement because it mastered the way of forward R&D process through R&D cooperation and by establishing a preliminary system. FAWDE summarized a unique R&D concept featuring four creations of products, mechanisms, flows and talents, which lay the foundation for its future independent R&D path.
According to Qian, FAWDE’s cooperation with AVL was the 38th project of the Austrian company with Chinese companies and the only one that resulted in complete success. It was because the other 37 cooperative parties merely asked for the R&D of a single type of product, instead of building corresponding mechanisms. Qian recalled that after the cooperation with AVL, FAWDE learned the flow of forward R&D and some R&D concepts and experience that should be followed up.
Through 20 years of devoted efforts in overcoming difficulties, FAWDE has formed its own independent R&D capacity with a professional team that can continue to make new products and apply new technologies. It has created a competitive industrial chain with its strong partners.
In the first half of 2016, a total of 150,000 FAWDE diesel engines were sold, jumping 18.96 percent from a year earlier. Among them, sales of Euro V CA6DM diesel engines stood at 37,000 units, surging 63 percent on a yearly basis with a 57 percent coverage ratio in the 11L segment. Market share of its engines with horsepower exceeding 350 reached 29 percent, topping the industry.
FAWDE also has a promising future for its “three-generation” system: first generation of production, second generation of R&D and third generation of reserves. Qian expressed that his company would make pre-R&D of future cutting-edge products and create its strategic reserves of competitive products while making in-depth development of its existing products. In this way, the FAWDE products can be guaranteed to maintain the international-advanced level and to be competitive with global products. FAWDE has started small-batch test assembly of 13L Euro V diesel engines with a horsepower of 500.
Independence does not mean rejecting outside help
How could FAWDE continue to improve its independent R&D capabilities while other competitors have failed to do so?
Besides adhering to the system development path, FAWDE has many helpful friends in cooperated efforts so as to set up corresponding mechanisms and flows and to foster technology integration capacity.
As for the future, according to Qian, FAWDE will try to build itself into the top leader in the diesel engine industry. For the development of an enterprise, attack is the best way of defense. FAWDE must make constant attack and innovations to make its products marketable in advanced countries and to achieve progress in catching up with international advanced levels of engine R&D and manufacturing.
It requires sweat, tears and even blood to achieve that “freedom,” as can be seen from FAWDE’s 20-year long path in independent development. Although there might be opposite views on whether import or independence is better for engines, “freedom” can only be realized on one’s own.
(Rewritten by Xu Jun based on author’s article on find800.cn)