During the past week I have had wonderful conversations with Jim Ashurst, Craig Kirby and Wilbur Botranger on the recent RVIA decision to open an office in China. Through the years we have been, and continue to be, very vocal against any engagement with a company that does not respect America, does not respect its people, and plays by a different set of rules than most civilized nations.
I reached out to Jim and Craig to get their input before writing another blog on the topic or throwing another bomb over Reston. This is a very serious issue and I wanted to see how the association came to this decision and I wanted them to understand that my writings on this topic are from the heart, not from loose lips.
I have sold to American manufacturers for over 40 years, especially here in the Northeast. I have seen products knocked-off, factories closed, and the lives of many hard working craftsman thrown right into the China sea. During this time our government has stood by and allowed it to happen, and the current administration shows no inclination to change things.
I have been involved in my indsutry association for over thirty years, I have served on just about every committee they have as a volunteer, and I have served almost two years as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for AIIM International. I only mention this to show that I do understand and appreciate the role of the China Committee, the role of the Board of Directors, and the role of Richard Coon as the President of RVIA.
Mr. Bontranger is a volunteer, one of many who serve our industry association in various capacities. He tells me that the China Committee voted unanimously to open the office in China, presented it to the Board of Directors who also voted unanimously and then, as with any association, the staff – including Richard Coon – are tasked with carrying out the objectives once funded by the Board. I have been a critic of RVIA in the past, and probably will be in the future, but while I don’t agree with any of these decisions, I certainly respect all of the people engaged in the process who were honestly voting for what they feel is in the best interest of ALL association members . . . that is how the system works.
Jim and Craig both repeated what has been printed on most RV trade sites and what they issued in their press releases on this topic. They are hoping that having an office and a representative in China, will help RVIA frame some of the standards that may be developed for RV manufacturing in China. It is assumed that no American manufacturers are going to be shipping RVs over to China anytime soon. It’s expensive enough shipping them around this country, never mind half-way across the world.
All three gentlemen noted that RVIA, and the China Committee, all have an obligation to watch this activity very closely and they have promised to do so. If this does not work out to be a good move for RVIA, then they claim they will vote to revoke this decision.
Mr. Botranger and I discussed the differences between building RVs in Australia and Europe and trying to compare it wo where China is today with RV activity. RVIA realizes that the most immediate need would be for destination trailers in the developing campground industry and that is where they want to focus on manufcturing standards.
Interestingly, the motorized business in China is very different than what we see here in America today. Mr. Botranger noted that most motorized units in China are used by business people and they actually hire drivers to take them from plant to plant. There are many legal issues for business people who drive their own motorhomes from plant to plant, and often stay in them during business travel. That is why they prefer to hire drivers to avoid the financial risk should there be an accident. Motorized units are not high on the list of important items for those serving on the China Committee.
MVP was represented on the China Committee and we all saw what can happen when you pick the wrong dancing partner over there. Picking partners will be the responsibility of any American company that ventures into China, probably with a joint venture, to play on that stage.
The conversations were great and I appreciate the open discussions we were able to have on the work that went into these decisions. As noted, and with most associations, the President or Executive Director reports to the Board of Directors, they take their marching orders from them, and they get their funding from them. RVIA and Richard Coon are doing what the Board has told them to do based on the China Committee investigation, discussions and ultimate vote in favor of these actions.
Does this mean I’ve switched sides now, not at all. We will continue to monitor China, to to prove somebody wrong, but to honestly report the information we get on the abuses we expect to see despite the best laid plans of RVIA. Pesonally, I don’t like the decisions and in the long run, I don’t think they will prove beneficial to RV manufcturers who elect to find a dancing partner in China.
Finally, and something that isn’t getting much press. In full disclosure I did not discuss this topic with Wilbur, Jim or Craig, but it did come up in conversation with another RV to w executive today. Given the amount of Amish people that work in the RV industry and that we proudly talk about their work ethics and quality of work, how is the RV industry going to address the abuse of the Chinese people by the Chinese government and what message will this send to employees here if our industry tolerates these abuses over there or turns a blind eye to them?
So if you had to pick two places to do business, and your choices were Australia, Europe or China . . . which two do you choose?