SHANGHAI -- These days, Phil Murtaugh, the former chairman of General Motors' China operations, is eating a lot of beef and the pungent Korean cabbage dish kim chi.
He gripes, but Murtaugh must have known it was coming when he accepted his new job as executive vice president of overseas operations at SAIC Motor Corp. The company's primary overseas operation is Korean automaker Ssangyong Motor Co.
Murtaugh's mission: Figure out how to use Ssangyong's assets to help SAIC become a globally competitive automaker. "They know what their strengths and weakness are (and) they think I can help them get from here to there," Murtaugh says.
A major weakness: SAIC engineers at the automaker's engineering institute in Shanghai lack the ability to develop a vehicle from the ground up. Ssangyong has limited ability to do that, Murtaugh notes.
However, Shanghai Automotive can beef up its expertise by drawing on the experience of ex-MG Rover engineers working at the SAIC Motor Overseas R&D Center in England. The SAIC center goes by the name of Ricardo2010 and is on the grounds of engine designer Ricardo PLC's Midlands Tech Center.
Ssangyong and Ricardo2010 are "two strategically very, very important assets," Murtaugh says. He adds that he will give the three engineering centers common systems so they can work together.
Murtaugh is helping his current employer to compete some day with GM. SAIC has joint ventures with both GM and Volkswagen to build cars in China. Yet it aims to develop its own brand, take market share in China, and start exporting vehicles in a few years.
He shrugs off any potential conflict of interest. General Motors fully supports SAIC's efforts to develop its own brand, Murtaugh says.
SAIC's top executives "had discussions with (GM chief) Rick Wagoner and (president of GM Asia Pacific) Troy Clarke about me coming here," he adds.
Developing a new vehicle can cost $1 billion. That won't hinder SAIC, Murtaugh says. Development costs are much lower in China, he says, recalling his time at GM working with the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center, an engineering joint venture between SAIC and GM.
SAIC "absolutely has the money to do it," he says.
With Murtaugh, SAIC has something it lacked: an executive with extensive international experience. The job keeps him busy.
Murtaugh, an avid golfer, returns to Shanghai on weekends to play golf with his wife, who still lives here. But he admits he may have to start spending weekends in Korea because of the workload. Luckily, there are golf courses in Korea - but, for Murtaugh's taste, too much beef.
You may e-mail Alysha Webb at [email protected]