Weichai Holding Group announced the Yangtze River Delta Development Strategy at Weichai (Yangzhou) Asiastar Automotive Industry Park in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, on October 10. A key component of the strategy is the restructuring of Yangzhou Asiastar Bus Co., Ltd. (Asiastar), to make it a top-ranking bus maker
Asiastar, formerly known as Yaxing Bus before Weichai acquired a 51 percent stake in it two years ago, has undergone significant changes in brand logo, facility, models, core components, vehicle body material and workers.
Asiastar used to be China’s leading bus maker in the 1990s and it once ranked first in sales for seven consecutive years. It still enjoys high brand awareness and is well-liked by old customers in the bus industry.
Asiastar’s joint venture partners and controlling shareholders have changed several times since 1997. During that period of time, the company suffered severe sales declines and huge losses, seriously impairing its brand image. But no matter how many times the partners and owners of Asiastar changed, the Asiastar logo remained unchanged until now.
Asiastar adopted a new logo and English trademark after Weichai’s acquisition. The bus maker hopes to show a different brand image as well as sustaining its customer awareness.
The Weichai (Yangzhou) Asiastar Automotive Industry Park covers an area of 666,667 square meters and has a floor space of 300,000 square meters. With an investment of ¥2.3 billion ($376.74 million), the Asiastar industry park is equipped with the world’s leading production lines and technologies.
Weichai will totally invest ¥3.5 billion in its Yangzhou vehicle facility, ¥1.5 billion of which will be fixed assets investment. The facility is designed to produce 20,000 buses including new energy buses, 10,000 large vans and 15,000 special-purpose vehicles including wide-body mining vehicles and sanitation vehicles. Sales revenues are expected to reach ¥10 billion a year.
The Asiastar industry park will manufacture not only Asiastar large and medium buses, but also commercial vehicles and Shengda brand special-purpose vehicles. Weichai plans to make Yangzhou an R&D and manufacturing base of buses, light commercial vehicles and special-purpose vehicles.
At the strategy release conference, Weichai displayed 20 newly designed Asiastar vehicles. The Wertstar, a new generation of Asiastar bus, debuted at the conference. Asiastar also showed airport shuttle buses, two super-capacitor new energy buses and European multifunctional light commercial vehicles.
Weichai has invested significantly in vehicle R&D since it acquired Asiastar in 2011, resulting in a variety of new high-end buses for the bus maker.
However, potential challenges may come alongside Asiastar’s positive changes.
Asiastar’s buses will be equipped with engines, transmissions and axles made by Weichai Power, Shanxi Fast Auto Drive Group Corp. (Fast) and Hande Axles Co., Ltd. (Hande) respectively.
Weichai engines, Fast transmissions and Hande axles individually have been widely used on large buses. Weichai nearly makes up half of the large bus engine market. Fast transmissions have been extensively adopted by mainstream bus makers such as Yutong. The Hande axles have been used on buses, but not as commonly as on heavy-duty trucks. The three key components of powertrain used on Asiastar buses have formed a strong supply chain in heavy-duty truck market, but they are hardly used together on buses.
It remains to be seen whether this powertrain combination will be well matched on Asiastar buses. Asiastar should tune the parameters of the three powertrain components according to customer feedback. But this will be a hard and long journey.
Asiastar also displayed new vehicle body material used on its buses. The new material is lighter and less prone to corrosion than regular steel plate and can help lighten vehicle body and reduce fuel consumption.
But customers attending the event questioned that approach.
A customer visiting the production line of Asiastar pointed at the vehicle body, saying it is not bright and smooth enough. “Good vehicle body can reflect people clearly, but the Asiastar bus body made of new material does not,” said customer.
An executive of Liaoning Passenger Transport Co. said whether a material can be used to make vehicle body is decided by not only strength and corrosion resistance but also maintainability and prettiness. “It remains to be seen whether the new material is easily repairable,” said the executive.
When visiting Asiastar’s production line, a customer said the bus is not as good as Youngman and King Long.
Several customers pointed out the problems of Asiastar buses in terms of manufacturing techniques. One guessed that the displayed buses were not assembled at the production line. “I think we are visiting a warehouse of finished buses, not buses that just came off the production lines,” he added.
Some assembly line workers of Asiastar were installing interior trims when customers visited the production line. After trying several times, the workers still failed to properly install the roof interior. “These workers may be green hands,” said a visitor.
Asiastar used to be China’s best bus maker during the 1990s in terms of manufacturing craftsmanship and was always the target for new companies such as King Long to poach management and technical talent away. Now that both Asiastar’s management team and front-line workers have changed significantly, it will take the new team much time to mature.
The question is, will the market wait and give it another chance?
(Rewritten by Katrina Dong based on author’s article on find800.cn)