Months after the preview of the new Sail subcompact sedan during the Manila International Auto Show, we joined Chevrolet Philippines on a trip to China to tour the facilities that are manufacturing the sedans arriving in our country.
The SAIC-GM headquarters in Shanghai was our first stop, where General Motors China's head of manufacturing Paul Buetow oriented us about the partnership of SAIC Motors and GM. He briefed us on the joint venture’s diverse product portfolio, and the combined vehicle and powertrain plants in China. Paul, who started his career with GM as a mechanic, geeked out about the advanced manufacturing technologies in the SAIC-GM plants, and even gushed about crash tests.
The Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), also in Shanghai, was our next destination. There, engineers shared the Sail's design and development story. A quick history on the nameplate (while it is the first Sail in the Philippines, it’s officially Sail 3 in China), and the design considerations during the development process were explained.
After the discussion, we were guided through a well-lit and very clean safety lab with various crash test equipment and cameras. Here, our guide explained, they can simulate different kinds of collisions so that they can later examine the damage and impact to the dummies, and pinpoint parts of the car that need improvement. Crash blocks weighing tons were lined up against the wall in the area. Catapult-like equipment were also parked here. We even entered an eerily cold room that resembled a hospital emergency ward, complete with crash test dummies (male, female and even babies) dressed in what looked like hospital garb.
Our next stop in the PATAC facility was the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) lab. We watched a car—a really drenched one—in the climate wind tunnel undergoing testing. Two people were inside the vehicle testing its functions despite the beating the car was receiving outside.
From the other side of the glass where we were standing, engineers were in front of their monitors, taking down notes and examining the figures they were receiving. The engineer in charge said that the length of the climate testing varies between car models; some testing can take four hours, while some can last for up to eight hours. Their job was to make sure that the vehicles rolling out from the facility are ready for the extreme weather conditions of the outside world.
We flew to SAIC-GM’s Dong Yue base in Yantai, Shandong, on our third day for the press, body, paint and general assembly shops. Chevrolet Sails were lined up near the entrance as if to greet us. The factory workers were busy assembling different SAIC-GM products by the time we hopped into our electric carts for the tour.
Although pressed for time, the engineer touring us gave us a rundown of how each shop works, while our vehicle noiselessly glided within the yellow safety lines. We were given a hard hat, goggles, and arm sleeves before entering the most special area of the tour.
This was clearly the highlight of the trip. The warehouse has caged robotic machinery continuously lifting, pushing and welding metal parts together. We also saw a couple of workers, but it was clear that in this area, the machines do all the work. It was like seeing Iron Man’s lab, should he decide to mass-produce his armor. The movement of the equipment was smooth, albeit noisy with sparks flying overhead.
The next part of the tour was almost the complete opposite. From getting pumped up by the machines from the last area, this place was quiet and calming—albeit still filled with machinery buzz. This time, there were far more people than robots. Car bodies were being transported above our heads, but there were also workers quietly assembling parts onto a vehicle’s body, meticulously checking the bolts and parts attached.
We wrapped up the tour with Paul Buetow talking about other manufacturing facilities in the country. Looking at GM’s manufacturing footprint in China, as well as the venture’s hefty product portfolio, the carmaker is in a strong position to address global demand by exporting products to other markets. Case in point, the new Chevrolet Sail making its way to our country.