Geely’s journey into car-making, from the eyes of one of the company’s longest serving employees.
“When we went to check out the factory area in 1997, it looked like a wasteland”
Yang Kaihua recalls the first time she saw the floor of Geely’s first car manufacturing base.
As one of Geely Group’s longest-serving staff members, Yang Kaihua, or “Sister Yang” as she is affectionately referred to, has been a part of Geely Holding Group since before it even had the idea of manufacturing cars. She witnessed first-hand the transition from a relatively small producer of mopeds to becoming one of the world’s largest car manufacturers.
With a humble start in producing refrigerator parts as early as 1986, Geely expanded its business to motorcycles in the early 1990s, after a close call with a truck saw one employee’s motorcycle smashed to bits. Eric Li, Founder of the company, looked down at the bike and had his lightbulb moment – he believed that he and his team had the ability to create something similar of their own…
Fast forward to September of 1996, Yang joined Geely at its then-headquarters in Luqiao, Taizhou. Fresh out of college, she worked as a clerk in the quality control department of the motorycle factory. The enthusiasm throughout the offices and production facilities was contagious and she felt hopeful for the future of the industry, and more importantly, the company. “The first moped made on the Chinese mainland was actually a Geely. The Group attracted a lot of experts and technical talents and everyone was determined to make a difference”, explains Yang.
The motorcycle business was going well when Eric brought up a plan that shocked everyone. “We were busy producing motorcycles when we heard that Geely was going to make cars,” says Yang, “it was very exciting news. Everyone thought it was a marvelous idea!”
While applauding Eric’s ambition, the staff also had their doubts. After all, making cars is much more complicated than manufacturing motorcycles. To add to this, the cars produced in China at the time were from joint ventures with foreign brands. “As employees at that time, we thought the chairman was doing something beyond our imagination. Everyone was surprised that a domestic private enterprise wanted to produce cars. But we also had faith in Eric and supported his decisions.
Perhaps it was his famous quote, “Isn’t a car just two sofas on four wheels?”, that eased the minds of his employees.
In 1997, Geely hit the ground running and started laying the foundation for its Linhai Haoqing Car Manufacturing Base. A year later, things were well underway but Geely was still waiting for its production license. This would not stop Eric from trying though: “We were not allowed to produce at first, Eric kept applying for one to the state authority,” says Yang, “he had a dream that Chinese private enterprises should make their own cars with independent brands.”
Geely finally got its license in 2001 and in doing so became the first privately-owned Chinese automaker. Since then, a lot has happened: the Group now has a portfolio of brands spanning traditional and new energy powertrains, and is at the forefront of manufacturing trends in the industry. From being refused a license, Geely has gone on to becoming China’s No.1 privately-owned auto giant with 2.1 million global sales for 2020. Geely owes a great deal of its success to its employees like Yang Kaihua, and hopes for many more adventures to come.