How Giant bikes are produced in Taiwan
Giant has become one of Taiwan’s most recognized brands. Like Asus or Acer in the IT industry, the bicycle producer started out as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for Western companies. Beginning in the 1980s, Giant (Chinese: 捷安特 or 巨大) established its own brand.
Many customers in Europe or the U.S. are probably still not aware that it’s a Taiwanese company, and that their Giant bikes may have been produced in Taichung.
Who is the biggest of them all?
With a sales revenue of US$1.56 billion in 2011, Giant defines itself as currently being the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. The company has 10,000 employees globally. About 2,500 of them work in Taiwan, where Giant was founded 40 years ago.
In 1972, its first year, the company produced less than 4,000 bikes. Giant puts the number at 5.7 million for 2012.
Giant bikes: Made in Taiwan. At least some of them.
When visiting the company headquarters in Taichung with a group of foreign journalists, we had a chance to look inside the manufacturing plant next door. My video gives you an impression of how Giant produces bikes there.
Like so many Taiwanese companies, Giant is taking advantage of low labor costs in China. In 1992, its first factory opened in Kunshan. Today, Giant is operating five plants in China. But unlike other companies, it has not given up on Taiwan as a place for manufacturing.
“Taichung is our head factory,” Giant Global Group CEO Antony Lo (羅祥安) told us during our visit. “Here, we are making high-end products: carbon fibre and light-weight aluminum.” In the plant right next to Lo’s office, 2,000 workers are producing parts as well as assembling about 1 million bikes per year.
Giant: not trying to produce as cheap as possible
“We don’t provide anything cheap,” Lo said. “People are looking for good quality; they are not looking for cheap products.” His company has positioned itself as a leading provider for rather high-priced sport, fitness and lifestyle bikes. In Germany, for example, typical Giant bikes range from EUR300 to EUR1,000, with the high-end price range between EUR1,500 and EUR3,000. This also includes e-bikes that have recently been gaining popularity. “We like to provide premium quality products at a popular price,” said Lo.
The global trend is Giant’s friend: “In the past, most people used their bikes for mobility, transportation, or lifestyle. But now the global trend is that more and more people start cycling for fitness and health reasons.”
That’s why, according to Lo, Giant is seeing strong growth in European markets like Germany and the Netherlands, and in Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan, where the number of cyclists has increased in recent years.
Migrant workers making Giant bikes in Taiwan
Because I am very interested in the situation of migrant workers in Taiwan, and had read that Giant Taiwan employs many South-East Asians, I asked Lo how his company is dealing with this situation.
According to him, about 20% of the workers in the Taichung plant are migrant workers — about 350 to 400 people. “We choose them very carefully,” Lo said. “We have people in Thailand and Indonesia to interview applicants over there. In Taiwan, we have dormitories and people who can speak their language to take care of them.”
Asked if his company pays all migrant workers Taiwan’s minumum wage (currently NT$18,780 / US$645 per month), or if they earn more, Lo said: “We pay according to the skill level. Some of them, we will give more than the minimum wage.”
Lo said that Giant has long-term relationships with many migrant workes. Usually, they can work in Taiwan for three years before they have to return to their home countries. “Most of them go home for one month and then come back to us. Many of them have been working with us for more than 10 years.”
Foreign labor is not just relevant in Taiwan, said Lo. For the European market, Giant is operating a manufacturing plant in the Netherlands. Many of the 400-500 workers there are Polish. “I think if you do the balance right, local workers plus guest workers, that’s a good system.”
Cycling in Taipei
Although Giant is operating Taipei’s public Youbike system, the city is not yet really suited for bike commuting. I attached a camera to my bike and filmed this POV video to give you an impression of what cycling in Taipei feels like:
What is your opinion about Giant bikes? Have you noticed them becoming more popular in your country?
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