In 1989 I read an outstanding book called Beijing Jeep: The Short, Unhappy Romance of American Business in China by Jim Mann, later an illustrious author on defense policy. It recounted the troubling experience of American Motors Corp. and Chrysler in failing to navigate a joint venture in Deng Xiaoping’s China. I had just graduated from college and, at the time, a wonky debate in Washington, D.C., where I was living, centered around the merits of having an industrial policy. That was then.
I thought repeatedly about this book and how far China has come while reading Scott Cendrowski’s outstanding feature in the new issue of Fortune about Tesla’s impressive turnaround of its China operations. The lesson from Mann’s book is that any company foolish enough to think about manufacturing in China for the domestic market needed to go in with its eyes wide open. It probably would be robbed blind, as AMC/Chrysler were, and it likely would fail.
Fast forward to 2017, and Cendrowski’s feature is a case study in how a company, even an auto company, can thrive in China without manufacturing there so long as it pays attention to what customers want. As it happens, according to Cendrowski—who time and again has illuminated Fortune’s readers with trenchant analyses of China’s most relevant business players—Tesla is considering a manufacturing joint venture in China. This is exactly what AMC/Chrysler did 30 years ago.
Times have changed, though, as has China. This will be fascinating to watch.
Typos tend to come in threes, which means another is on its way. Thank you to those of you who pointed out that Priceline’s impressive 10-year run dates from 2006, not 2016.
Lock it down, take one. The hacking collective known as The Dark Overlord is claiming that “Hollywood is under attack” after the group’s latest leak of previously unreleased television episodes online this week. The hackers, who leaked unreleased episodes of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black back in April, set free eight unaired episodes of the new ABC competition reality series Funderdome hosted by comedian Steve Harvey.
Lock it down, take two. “You can never be paranoid enough,” Microsoft’s top cloud executive Scott Guthrie said on Wednesday. “If people say, ‘if I sign with you, can you guarantee I won’t be hacked?’ If I say yes, I’m lying.”
Lending a hand. Two tech companies will do more to help when disaster strikes. Airbnb is making it easier for aid groups to use its service to search for free, temporary housing for people displaced during a crisis. And Facebook said it would create maps during disasters like earthquakes for the Red Cross and other aid groups showing anonymized data on its users’ locations, movements and status updates. The idea is to help the groups know where to focus their efforts.
On second thought. Satellite radio service Sirius XM couldn’t reach an agreement to acquire struggling online music service Pandora, but may still make an equity investment, Reuters reported.
The next big thing. Android creator Andy Rubin’s startup, Essential, raised $300 million to back its renegade smartphone effort. The financing values the company at $900 million to $1 billion, according to an outside estimate, meaning Rubin may be running the world’s newest unicorn.
The next small thing. Plume, one of a grab bag of startups focused on building better Wi-Fi routers for consumers, raised $37 million from backers including Comcast and Samsung’s venture capital fund. The company’s tiny, multi-colored Wi-Fi pods work in concert in a customer’s home to create a mesh network.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The race is on to find the next big thing in consumer computing and the focus so far is on voice-controlled digital assistants, like Apple’s Siri, that help you find information and get things done from across the room. Fueled by machine learning and other areas of artificial intelligence, Siri is facing off against Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s eponymous helper.
But the Wall Street Journal‘s Tripp Mickle has a deep dive into how Apple’s corporate culture may be stymying efforts to make Siri more capable and more accurate. One problem is that Apple collects and keeps less data generated by its customers than rivals. That lets the company brag about better protecting user privacy, but makes improving Siri more difficult.
“Siri is a textbook of leading on something in tech and then losing an edge despite having all the money and the talent and sitting in Silicon Valley,” Holger Mueller, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, tells Mickle.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This Is the Next Battleground for Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft by Jonathan Vanian
Spending on Video Games and Internet TV Booming by Aaron Pressman
This Is the Most Devious Ransomware Attack We’ve Ever Seen by Mahita Gajanan
IBM Is Partnering With More Community Colleges to Train Tech Workers by Claire Zillman
Mark Cuban’s Twitter Trolling Sent Bitcoin Prices Tumbling by Lucinda Shen
Michelle Obama to Silicon Valley: Make Room for Women in Tech by Madeline Farber
BEFORE YOU GO
Millions dreamed of it, almost 20,000 actually vied for it, but in the end, only 12 will realize it. NASA announced on Wednesday that it had selected a dozen people for its next class of astronauts to fly in the agency’s upcoming generation of spacecraft.
Where will they go? When the name of geologist Jessica Watkins, who has worked with the Curiosity rover on Mars, was announced NASA Flight Operations Director Brian Kelly expressed his hopes: “We intend to send her to Mars one day, folks.”