Ambition firmly in the driving seat

Update: 2021-05-17

Changchun, capital of Northeast China's Jilin province, is dubbed "the cradle of the automobile industry" because the country's first cargo truck, first high-end Hongqi car, first subway passenger car and first off-road vehicle were all manufactured in the city.

During New China's early days, one of the big questions was when Chinese people would be able to drive cars developed in their homeland. At that time, establishing a heavy industry sector was a major task for the country.

In 1953, after releasing a guideline on building an automobile plant within three years, the central government started establishing the First Automobile Works, or FAW, in Changchun. That marked the first step for New China's automotive industry.

When FAW was finally up and running, large numbers of skilled technicians from State-owned enterprises in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin were assigned to Changchun to aid development of the automobile sector, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency in April.

In 1954, the Changchun government invested 84 percent of its municipal construction budget to help build a manufacturing plant for FAW, Xinhua said.

On July 13, 1956, New China's first domestically produced vehicle, the Jiefang heavy truck, rolled off the assembly line in Changchun, marking a breakthrough in the development of the automobile sector.

In 2005, Changchun set up an economic development zone for the industry. In recent years, it has developed into a home for automobile research, vehicle parts manufacturing and companies involved in logistics, trade and services.

The zone has become a platform for the complete automobile industry development chain and low-cost operations for new-style industrialization. It aims to help Changchun become a modern international automobile city, the zone's committee said.

The provincial government intends to build Changchun into an international automobile city with high-end, advanced automotive supply and industry chains.

This year, China FAW Group, FAW's successor, is set to manufacture its 8 millionth Jiefang truck. After more than half a century, the brand has been upgraded to its seventh generation, while Changchun has witnessed tremendous changes in China's auto industry, Xinhua reported.

Last year, the company sold 3.7 million vehicles, up from 3.1 million in 2016, with revenue reaching 696 billion yuan ($107 billion) compared with 430 billion yuan in 2016, the company said.

Meanwhile, production of the company's self-developed brands keeps rising. For example, production of the Hongqi luxury sedan rose from 4,702 vehicles in 2017 to 200,000 last year, the company said.

"Hongqi and Jiefang have always maintained top positions in terms of brand value in China's passenger car and commercial truck markets respectively," it noted. "The Hongqi L series limousine has been chosen as the official car for China's major celebrations and events. Medium- and heavy-duty Jiefang trucks also lead in terms of their share of China's commercial truck market."

By 2025, it estimates that it will realize sales of more than 6 million vehicles, generating income of more than 1 trillion yuan.

This year, Xu Liuping, FAW Group's chairman, told the company's annual news conference that the Chinese automobile industry has seized the opportunity to catch up and even become an important player in the global market, and also in terms of consumption, technology and industrial models. The key lies with China's auto manufacturers.

"With the support of municipal and provincial governments, we will strive to understand the rules of transformation, grasp the nature of the industry, seize the greatest-ever opportunities and focus on self-developed core technologies such as new energy and intelligent network connection," Xu said.

"We aim to make the leap in growth of our self-developed brands, see high-quality development of new businesses while controlling risks and strive to move forward to become a world-class enterprise."

On the right track

CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles is another star of Jilin's manufacturing scene.

The company, founded in 1954, was one of the key construction projects during the First Five-Year Plan (1953-57). At the time, it was the only enterprise specializing in the manufacture of railway passenger cars, the company said. It developed China's first domestic railway passenger car, first subway train and first domestic bullet train.

In 2007, the first bullet train to run at a speed of 200 kilometers per hour rolled off CRRC's assembly line. Ten years later, the Fuxing high-speed train began running at a speed of 350 km/h between Beijing and Shanghai, the fastest among all such commercial operations in the world, the company said.

"It was not only about speed; it also marked that the country has gained the ability to formulate industrial standards and rules in high-speed railways and entered the world's high-speed railway standards system," according to a report on China Central Television in 2019.

That year, the company's Fuxing high-speed railway intelligent train linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou city in Hebei province came into operation. It will serve passengers heading to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.

"Since we have the core technology for trains that can operate in low temperatures, we have solved the problem of operating them in the -40 C environment," Ma Kai, a senior engineer with the company, told Xinhua in 2019.

"The low temperatures and accumulated snow expected during the Winter Olympics will not affect the train. We will ensure that passengers arrive at their destinations on time, even under extreme weather conditions."

So far, the company's products have been exported to more than 20 countries and regions, including the United States, Australia, Israel, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, Argentina and Ethiopia, the company said.

In November, Wang Run, the company's chairman, told Jilin Daily: "Revitalizing the national industry and serving people's travel needs are the intention and mission of our company. We must use our products to continuously improve people's transportation experience and create a shining name card for China's high-speed railways."

Space breakthrough

With the aim of making technological breakthroughs, the Jilin government established Chang Guang Satellite Technology in 2014, the country's first commercial remote sensing satellite company.

In October 2015, four Jilin-1 commercial satellites were sent into space. So far, the company has sent 25 Jilin-1 satellites into orbit and has built the country's largest commercial remote sensing satellite constellation, the company said.

The constellation can update the global map twice a year and national maps seven times a year. It can also provide high-quality remote sensing information and product services for the agricultural and forestry sectors, environmental monitoring, geographical mapping and land planning.

Jilin-1 is China's first independently developed commercial high-resolution remote sensing satellite. It's the first such device launched under the name of a province that offers a range of resolutions.

"With the mission of serving 7 billion people on the globe with a remote sensing information product integrating sky, space and the ground, we aim to build an internet-based remote sensing information platform and constantly introduce innovative products. The company is going all out to promote the industrial transformation and upgrading of Jilin province and to drive the revitalization of the old industrial base in Northeast China," the company said.

In 2017, Xuan Ming, the company's chairman, told Jilin Daily that many other domestic commercial satellite companies have sprung up in the fields of remote sensing, communications, navigation and other areas.

"The development of the country's commercial aerospace projects is promising. I hope more enterprises will cooperate with us to improve the industry," he said.