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China’s desire to ascend the rankings in every scale, from GDP to Olympics medals, is patent. One such manifestation is to have world-leading brands, and it’s here that China’s failure to develop a successful car company is keenly felt. Explicating this state of affairs, G.E. Anderson’s book Designated Drivers is an acute dissection of the travails of the auto industry, particularly in the post-1978 reform period. For those who believe a communist government is a monolithic entity, the book will be a sure eye-opener, as Anderson shows how various agencies and government levels (central, provincial and local) compete, conflict and (occasionally) cohere into a strategic policy. Anderson displays a fine grasp of the material, with a scholarly analysis of both the industrial context and policy formulation  (to a degree rarely seen for China), along with case histories of the joint ventures (some partnerships being more enthusiastic than others) and independents which today make up the present auto sector. Some may find the policy section a little dry, but the case histories are fascinating. (Did you know that Geely bought its first factory from a prison?)

While the book never lets up its focus on the auto industry, it also serves an excellent primer into Chinese industrial policy and the economic actors who count. The lessons for foreign businesses trying to enter China are no less pertinent.

Published in Agenda Beijing

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