Chinese Parking Assistants are a Different Breed: Observations about Mobility in China

A conversation between Uwe Reuter and Dr Marc Muntzinger

Uwe Reuter meets with Dr Marc Muntzinger, who spent some time in China for Porsche and now shares his experience of working and living in the most populous country in the world. Marc is a specialist for automated parking at Porsche and used his time abroad to learn about mobility and parking in China.

Parking in China is highly automated and digitized. (911 Carrera 4S: Fuel consumption combined 10.1–9.7 l/100km; CO2 emissions combined 231–222 g/km)

As a traditional sports car manufacturer with German roots, Porsche enjoys great recognition in China, which in recent years has been our largest market worldwide. We are aware that the country places special requirements on our models, due to a range of specific demands relating to product development and design. Due to its independent culture, population density, customer behaviour and country-specific infrastructure, the automotive industry has to offer tailor-made solutions in China.

I met with Dr Marc Muntzinger, the specialist responsible for automated parking at Porsche, to talk about this topic, as well as his experiences working for the company when he undertook a placement in Shanghai last year. You can read about his time in China and what he has learned regarding the development of our automated parking systems.

The challenges of living in China as an expat

Shanghai is home to more than 23 million people / Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Uwe: Together with your wife and children, you had the opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture as part of our personnel development program. What expectations did you have before embarking on this assignment?

Marc: My goal was to gain a better understanding of the Chinese market, find potential local partners and plan the implementation of new parking systems in China. And, of course, I was also curious about life and culture in the country.

Uwe: Before we get on to your professional assignment, I am very interested to find out about the kind of challenges you encountered as a European in everyday life in China?

Marc: To find my way around China, I opened a Chinese bank account. This is now very difficult with a business visa, and I was only successful with the seventh bank. Then I signed a mobile phone contract and got a Chinese driving license. Some of the administrative procedures, such as undergoing a medical checkup for a driver’s license, can be quite an experience. For this, I required assistance from a local interpreter, as I had to fill out forms with Chinese characters.

My wife and I met only nice and sociable Chinese people, but they usually had a completely different understanding of privacy compared to Europeans like us. For example, we had to fend off enthusiastic photographers when they saw our blond baby. While shopping in the supermarket, we could choose between all kinds of unknown dishes and imported 10-euro noodles from Italy.

China from an economic point of view

Photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash

Uwe: China has become a global economic power in recent years. How do you explain the country’s economic rise?

Marc: One of the main factors in China’s success is its human capital. In addition to the sheer mass of its 1.4 billion population, since the 1970s, the country’s one-child policy (which has ended in 2015) led to the virtual extinction of uncles, aunts and cousins. A child born in the 1980s is usually the only child their parents and the only grandchild of their four grandparents. This generation has become known as theyoung emperors” due to the amount of attention they have received from their families. Many have enjoyed an excellent education at one of China’s top universities, and many of these institutions place much higher than German universities in the global rankings.

Young Chinese people are often very ambitious and, instead of working nine-to-five, tend to work “nine-nine-six”, i.e. from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. The country’s rapid economic rise is also evident in the younger generation’s consumer behaviour. The average Porsche customer in China is 20 years younger than in Europe, and the proportion of female Porsche buyers is just sharply less than50 percent.

Uwe: It is often surprising for visitors to see how far digitization has already become part of peoples’ everyday lives in China.

Marc: Yes, of course! You notice it immediately when you ask how to pay, or how to get from A to B. While we still primarily use cash in Germany, it’s almost extinct there, as people make payments with their smartphones. It makes little sense to own a car in the metropolises, as there are well-developed subway and bus networks, with trains running every minute. If you prefer a more comfortable ride, you can order a taxi by mobile phone via Didi Chuxing, the Chinese version of Uber. After a few clicks on your smartphone, you receive a confirmation, and shortly afterwards the taxi turns up. You can also make special requests via an app, such as the number of seats you would like, or premium equipment like leather seats, drinks or storage space for luggage.

In China, you can hardly survive without a smartphone. It is almost impossible to order a taxi in a conventional way. A Chinese person therefore always has two things with them: a mobile phone and a power bank for their mobile phone.

Parking and mobility in China

Photo by hiurich granja on Unsplash

Uwe: What are your experiences with modern China’s innovations in the mobility sector?

Marc: China is technologically ahead of us in many areas. A trip with the express train is an experience, as the train stations are reminiscent of airport terminals. After checking in and going past security, you board a modern express train, which takes you across the country at 350 km/h.

The country’s promotion of intelligent and networked vehicles (Intelligent Connected Vehicles — ICVs) should also be mentioned in this context. In recent years, hundreds of ICV start-ups have been established, some of which have grown to over 1,000 employees and a market capitalization of over one billion euros in a short space of time. In parking garages, parking spaces are identified by a camera, payments are made by mobile phone, and the barriers open automatically after identifying the car’s number plate.

Uwe: This digital parking system is relatively new for us. For example, I use the APCOA parking app or the evopark system in Stuttgart. However, distribution in Germany is low.

Marc: I was able to see where the journey in China is heading at the conference of an internet startup, where the company presented its vision of the connected cars of the future together with a local car manufacturer. The rapid expansion of 5G wireless networks played a key role in this. The automotive start-up industry is unanimously committed to approaches that utilize artificial intelligence. Topics such as security and functional safety only appear in passing. Due to the low level of data protection, there is a danger that China will quickly overtake Europe in the fields of big data and artificial intelligence.

Uwe: Your field of work at Porsche is the development of automated parking systems, both in the vehicle and in terms of infrastructure, e.g. in multi-story car parks.

Marc: Intelligent parking assistance for automated parking must be tailored to the typical modern parking garages in China. Since the requirements for the Chinese market are fundamentally different to those in Europe, I think it is essential to develop parking systems directly for the Chinese market and not to test them in China for final validation.

Uwe: The Chinese central government’s economy specifically promotes certain key technologies, but sometimes overlooks other considerations. This can lead to competitive advantages arising very quickly.

Marc: In China, economic success is given a higher priority than environmental protection. Air pollution is, therefore, a problem in all metropolises, although awareness of the topic is increasing. Before leaving your home, it is advisable to check the Air Quality Index (AQI). As a European, you will feel a scratchy throat or have breathing difficulties when the AQI reaches 150; for most Chinese people this is part of everyday life.

Surveillance is omnipresent in China. The presence of security cameras and police, which may make sense in Shanghai, seems grotesque in the jungle on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. Even traffic is regulated by surveillance cameras — and not just in terms of license plate recognition. In some cities, drivers on the phone or pedestrians crossing the street at a red light are identified via facial recognition, then publicly pilloried and fined.

Uwe: Technologies can be used in a meaningful way per se, or misused. This also includes the camera surveillance of license plates, of course, be it in the parking garage or in traffic. Marc, what is your conclusion from your stay in China?

Marc: Politics and business cannot be separated from one another in China. Many economic and social developments are planned or driven forward by politicians for years or decades. Examples of this include the “Made in China 2025” strategy, an initiative to upgrade industry, which is based on the German Industry 4.0, or the plan to become football World Cup champions in 2050 and the boom in planned cities like Shenzhen.

Overall, I was able to enjoy some very exciting and educational months in China, and I thank Porsche for giving me the opportunity to understand this important market a little better.

Uwe: Thank you, Marc, both for the interview and the exciting insights from your posting to China.

Dr. Marc Muntzinger

Dr. Marc Muntzinger is Principal Engineer for Automated Parking Systems at Porsche

Uwe Reuter

Uwe Reuter is Director of Resources and Innovation Chassis at Porsche

About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products and think digital with a focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It’s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies and the people that drive our digital journey. Please follow us on Twitter (Porsche Digital, Next Visions), Instagram (Porsche Digital, Next Visions, Porsche Newsroom) and LinkedIn (Porsche AG, Porsche Digital) for more.

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