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The automotive connection between Quzhou and Minnesota

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Quzhou College faculty exchange continues with automotive instructor Fang Xiaofen

Fang portraitFang Xiaofen (Fong Show-fen), visiting faculty member from Quzhou College of Technology, has been discovering the American way of life during his stay in Winona. He likes the people, saying Minnesotans are "very nice" and "warm-hearted." He likes the food, especially American and Mexican restaurants. He enjoys taking a morning or evening stroll around Lake Winona.

But his face really lights up when he starts talking about cars, especially American cars. "We usually drive small cars in China. U.S. cars are so huge and there are lots of pickup trucks."

Of course he notices cars - Fang is an automotive instructor in Quzhou, where he teaches courses such as fundamentals of auto mechanics, electric vehicles, car service, vehicle inspection and maintenance.

Fang with red carAt home, Fang drives a red Volkswagen Polo - the equivalent of a VW Golf.  "VWs are very popular. In China cars are made especially for our market. Imported cars are very expensive. Foreign manufacturers must set up a joint venture with a domestic (Chinese) company in order to make cars in China."

Besides spending time in the Automotive Technology and Auto Body Collision Technology departments at Southeast Technical in Winona, Fang has gotten out for some eye-opening field trips. "I spent the afternoon last week at Dahl Automotive - it is very huge! There are lots of used cars as well as new. That's very different. In China you would never see second-hand cars along with new cars."

He also visited a salvage yard where auto parts can be removed, refurbished and reused. "That's simply not possible in China," he says. "Our cars are made for one-time usage only. Right from when they were designed and built, every part is only meant to be used once. There's no such thing as used auto parts for sale."

Fang hasn't gotten to do much driving during his visit, but he did take a turn at driving one of the 18-wheel trucks from the Southeast Technical Truck Driving program. He admits that it was a nerve-wracking experience. "You're up so high, you are looking down on top of regular cars. It's like driving a tank --it was the biggest truck I've ever driven!"

Within the last 20 years, China has become the second largest car market in the world, after the USA. The middle class is expanding and more people can afford modestly-priced autos now. Nonetheless, a car costs about the same as a full year's salary.

Fang looking in window"Most people save up money to buy the car outright. Saving is really the lifestyle there. But the younger generation wants to buy a house first, so they are willing to borrow money to buy a house, and then pay for the car outright," he says.

When asked about his favorite American made cars, Fang is quick to reel off a string of brand names. He mentions Chevrolet, Pontiac, Mercury, Lincoln, GMC, Buick and Cadillac. V8 engines are especially exciting.

On a recent excursion to the local Cadillac dealer in Red Wing, Fang enjoyed peering in the windows of some extremely high-end cars. "These are the kind of cars you would see in the movies!" he exclaims, and then has a good laugh at the sticker shock. "This one would cost about 20 years' salary. Add in the import tax and it would be double that!"

Fang will be on his way back to Quzhou very soon, but hopes to bring a bit of Minnesota back with him as he works with Southeast Technical faculty to set up online, video and ITV courses for his Chinese pupils. He would like to create an SAE certification program in cooperation with Southeast Technical. But no, he won't be bringing a Cadillac home!

Thanks to Tao T. Peng for assistance with translation during the interview and to Red Wing Chevrolet Buick Cadillac for allowing photography at their location.