Whirlpool Plant Profile: Pudong

Dec. 21, 2004
Room To Grow

The Whirlpool washer factory in China is located in Pudong, an area of Shanghai on the opposite side of the Huangpu River from the European architecture of the old commercial district. Pudong is the designated financial center of the region. Gleaming office towers race for the sky near the river. A few blocks inland stand row after row of brand-new 25-story apartment buildings, with more on the rise. Monstrous traffic circles allow the growing numbers of cars to zip about more easily than in other areas of the city. Locals are quick to tell visitors that much of this area was rice paddies just 10 years ago. The three-story Whirlpool factory has been here since 1995. Currently a wholly-owned foreign enterprise, Whirlpool purchased the plant in 2002 from a joint-venture partner it joined forces with in 1997. The pay on the plant floor is relatively good, with production employees earning 1,800 RMB ($225) per month. The union contract even calls for popsicle breaks when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees. The design capacity of the factory is 1 million units per year, but Whirlpool never achieved economy of scale here. With sales targeted exclusively at the domestic market, output stood at around 340,000 in 2003, and should hit around 400,000 this year. At fault, according to several managers, was the company's low-cost market strategy. The company hopes to reverse its fortunes with its new focus on customer loyalty.

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