What German Automakers Have To Learn From The Chinese

China was never known for state-of-the-art trucks
China was never known for state-of-the-art trucks
Birger Nicolai

BERLIN - This truck has been shipped from China, where it was bought from the country’s biggest truck maker, CIMC. It looks just like the kind of truck a child would draw: bright red, very long, very high, with massive wheels. Everything about it is just a tad too big for German roads.

The truck is nearly 46 feet long (14 meters) and weighs 7.5 tons – which makes it about one and a half times heavier than a similar vehicle in Germany. But that’s the only way it could haul 50 to 60 tons, which is what it would be loaded with in China – a weight the air suspension commonly used for European trucks couldn’t handle.

The Chinese truck’s days are numbered. It’s standing at the Schmitz Cargobull test center in Altenberge (North Rhine-Westphalia), and engineers at this large manufacturer of trailer trucks are going to dismantle it completely. The family company is going to be launched on the Chinese market, and it needs to understand the kind of trucks that are sold there.

With names like Schmitz Cargobull but also Krone and Kögel, Germany is one of the world’s top trailer truck-producing nations. Last year, the industry turned over more than 8 billion euros. Between January and June of this year, Schmitz Cargobull – which manufactures semitrailers, platform and sliding floor trailers, tippers, and swap bodies – produced 26,585 vehicles which is about 2% more than the preceding year.

The medium-sized enterprise is successful because it adapted auto industry production methods, mainly from Japan, to the truck industry, which means it can assemble a truck in a matter of minutes. But German companies are no less susceptible to the ambient economic climate than others, and the effect of fewer sales is slowing things down on the production line. And when Daimler Trucks and MAN announce, as they just have, that their orders have gone back by a double digit percentage, the medium-sized companies start getting even more nervous.

Even at VW they do “analysis of foreign products”

Although the German Ministry of Transportation is saying that truck transport in Germany should increase by 50% between 2010 and 2025, new orders in the sector are way below expectation. So companies are looking to Asia where the chances of growth are significant.

In the case of Schmitz Cargobull, it has already committed to a joint venture with a Chinese partner -- First Automotive Works (FAW), the largest maker of diesel motors, busses and trucks in China. Each company holds 50% of the shares in the new venture. If all goes to plan, they will be producing their first trucks by 2014. Three years later, the Wuang factory should be producing 30,000 vehicles.

So the destruction of the Chinese truck in Altenberge has a creative reason. "We want to know in detail how a truck like this is built in China, and what the load-bearing capacity is," says test center boss Michael Wildhagen.

In machine building, copying from one another is not considered dishonorable as long as no laws are broken. At VW, there are allegedly 60 workers engaged in the “analysis of foreign products,” as Volkswagen calls it.

At Schmitz Cargobull, a dozen technicians are working on the same thing. And in the case of the Chinese truck, which in many respects is “built the way German companies were building trucks 30 years ago,” says Wildhagen, the findings include a dozen thick strips of steel mounted between the axle and the floor that enable the truck to carry (albeit illegally) double the load as compared to a German truck.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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