Hotel in a Hurry: 30 Stories Built in 15 Days

Chalk up another eyebrow-raising construction engineering marvel in Asia. Malaysia and Taiwan may have the world’s largest skyscrapers, but China is becoming the “quick construction” center of the universe.

The latest example is a 30-story hotel prototype structure built in Changsha, China in just 15 days at the end of last year.

Broad Group, the construction company responsible for the feat, claims that the 183,000 sq. ft. hotel can withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, along with being substantially more energy efficient, sound and heat insulated than conventionally constructed facilities.

Broad Group completed this hotel just a few weeks after completing another “quick construct” project in China’s Hunan Province — the 15-story Ark Hotel — in just six days.

Here’s a time-elapsed video of the Ark Hotel construction, spanning a grand total of 360 hours. Reportedly, there were no on-the-job injuries despite the hyper-compressed timeframe.

How did Broad Group accomplish this feat? The company reports that it uses prefabricated modules rather than building the entire structure onsite. These modules shorten the time while making construction management coordination much easier. It’s interesting to see in the video how that coordination works to telescope the time needed for building.

Of course, the next question that comes to mind is whether something like this could ever be “exported” to the United States. Or would there be a raft of regulations, safety and environmental obstacles in the way to make it impossible?

Anyone care to weigh in with thoughts?

The Limits of Delivering “Cheaper Value”

Nano vehicle

Tata Nano car on fire
Tata Nano ... Tata "No-No"?
About a year ago, the international press was abuzz about the latest new “value” entry in the automobile business. Amid great fanfare, Tata Motors, part of India’s largest corporate conglomerate, was introducing the “Nano,” a car designed to appeal to India’s mass market.

The Nano, which can seat five people and has a surprisingly roomy interior for its size, carries a base price of only ~$2,200 — lower than any other car in the world — which proved irresistible to families of modest means whose finances had required that they make do with motorcycles or scooters before.

Some 9,000 Nano vehicles were delivered in July, but since then, sales have slowed dramatically – to just around 500 shipments to dealers in November.

How did Nano’s star fall so far, so fast – especially for a vehicle which Tata Motors thought was impressive enough that it planned to introduce it in other developing markets … then Europe … and finally to the United States?

Production delays have something to do with it. But the real problem is the performance of the car. Most alarming are reports that the vehicle can catch on fire, with one widely broadcast incident where a Nano caught on fire and was engulfed by flames on the way home from the auto showroom!

In response, Tata, while denying anything is wrong with the design of the Nano and studiously avoiding any language of “recall,” is offering to retrofit the automobile with extra safety features. It’s also extending the warranty on the car from 18 months to a solid four years.

Will these moves change the impression that the car is more of a “No-No” rather than a “Nano” and move its sales trajectory back into positive territory? Perhaps. But it’s interesting to note that sales of a rival “value” car made by Suzuki – the “Alto” – have now overtaken those of the Nano. The Alto carries a higher base price of $6,200, and yet it posted unit sales of ~30,000 in November, making it India’s best-selling car that month.

[The success of the Suzuki Alto in India is nice news for a company whose cars in the U.S. have been on a downward plunge all this year – with sales off ~42% in 2010 compared to 2009.]

The experience of the Nano and the Alto in India brings up an interesting question: Is it possible to make small, cheap version of products that are significant purchase items and win the confidence of a broad customer base?

To a degree, yes. But there are limits to “how low you can go” in value-engineering a product for performance and safety, below which customers just turn and walk away. (Or, in this case, drive away.)

Moreover, just like the experience of the Yugo or the Trabant, there’s a risk of forming a poor market image that’s impossible to shake off.

And in this particular case, the brand names don’t help at all. It’s just too easy for disgusted consumers to say “Ta-Ta” to Tata Motors and “No-No” to the Nano.