Which famous products are made in Taiwan
Exclusive company visit to MERIDA in Taiwan - where do our bikes actually come from?
Taiwan is the unofficial center of the global bike industry - some of the largest manufacturers produce here. But what exactly does it look like? We were exclusively allowed to accompany the development process of the MERIDA eONE-SIXTY and learned a surprising amount at the headquarters of the second largest bike manufacturer in the world.
“I now avoid the word no. I have no idea what's going to happen. ”That was one of the statements by William Jeng, Senior Vice President of MERIDA that we remember most clearly. We wanted to meet for a short “Welcome” and a cup of Taiwanese Oolong tea - this resulted in numerous cups and deep insights into the company, the “Made in Taiwan” label and the work philosophy.
To be honest, we didn't know much about what was behind MERIDA, what the company stands for and what the production conditions are like in the Far East. But first things first. Let's start with the basics: What does the name MERIDA stand for?
Me-Ri-Da - the story about MERIDA that hardly anyone knows
We have to disappoint anyone who previously believed (we!) That the company name came from a city in Spain or Mexico. Me-Ri-Da is made up of three Chinese syllables: "Me" stands for beautiful, "Ri" for comfortable, "Da" for smooth and good transport in terms of traffic and transport. Roughly translated, this would mean for Me-Ri-Da: "The production of beautiful high-quality products that allow everyone to achieve their goal in the most pleasant way possible."
The fact that the founder Ike Tseng initially produced motorcycle parts in the early years of MERIDA makes the idea behind the company name more understandable. Ike Tseng developed the company into a bicycle manufacturer relatively quickly, initially for Raleigh Bikes and then for other western bike brands. Today the company only produces bikes for a few external brands. The Taiwanese have been pushing MERIDA as their own brand since the 1990s, and from the turn of the millennium with stronger branding and their own teams - such as the MULTIVAN MERIDA TEAM, Lampre-Merida or today's BAHRAIN MERIDA Pro Cycling Team. The results of the sporting commitment proudly hang in the form of Olympic and world champion medals in the entrance area of the company.
Around 1,300 employees work at the Taiwanese headquarters alone, around 1 million bikes can be produced there every year
Today the company with around 4,000 employees worldwide is managed by Ike's son Michael Tseng. In addition to the headquarters in Yuanlin, south of Taichung, MERIDA has three other production facilities on the Chinese mainland. Figures to symbolize the size of the company: Around 1,300 employees work at the Taiwanese headquarters alone, and around 1 million bikes can be produced there every year. Anyone who knows the MERIDA product range better knows that a lot has happened in the last five years and that there is now a broad and coherent model line-up from road and gravel to urban bikes and mountain bikes. The youngest but most successful segment are e-mountain bikes. The e-bike division now accounts for 30% of MERIDA's total sales.
While production takes place in Asia, the development center is located in Germany, as is an assembly facility for the European market. The combination of German development competence, in-house production know-how and in-house production is a perfect combination and represents a great advantage. But only the very warm and respectful relationship between the teams, which are six time zones apart, makes them a complete success .
Designed in Germany, Made in Taiwan
But what exactly does this cooperation look like, e.g. B. with the MERIDA eONE-SIXTY? Since the first generation of models was a huge success for MERIDA, the developers initially asked themselves: What do we want to change? And so the development goals were crystallized in the branch in Magstadt, a tranquil community near Stuttgart: On the agenda were a slim, integrated battery, a carbon frame, minimal noise development on the trail, distinctive design features and small adjustments in the geometry for even better trail performance.
In general, the development of an e-bike depends heavily on the range of motors and batteries. After all, hardly any bike brand is big enough to develop its own competitive drive system and, above all, to guarantee a worldwide, reliable service. Since MERIDA was already working closely with Shimano, it quickly became clear with which partner the new eONE-SIXTY should be realized. The problem: At the start of development of the new eONE-SIXTY, Shimano did not yet have a compact internal battery that matched MERIDA's ideas. Without further ado, the development team from Magstadt drew up blueprints for a new battery. The foundation stone for the new Shimano STEPS BT-E8035 was laid.
The frame and the add-on parts such as the battery cover or the distinctive Thermo Gate on the head tube of the new eONE-SIXTY are designed in Germany and the designs are then checked for feasibility by the Taiwanese counterpart. Which manufacturing processes have to be used? Does it make sense in terms of costs and can the product even be produced in bulk and high quality? Around 20 Taiwanese engineers at MERIDA's headquarters ensure that the specifications of the German development team are correctly implemented in production - a real challenge with over 700 models in the portfolio. After a few ping-pong games between Taiwan and Germany, which include geo-sketches on paper, 3D models and initial prototypes, you get closer to the technically and technically optimal solution. During this time, the German development team is also on site several times in Taiwan to clarify problems and details and also to maintain business relationships with suppliers and development partners. During our visit to Taiwan, we had the opportunity to attend a meeting with the tire manufacturer MAXXIS and were able to visit the production facility in which all MAXXIS bicycle tires are manufactured. The headquarters of MERIDA and MAXXIS are, by the way, in the immediate vicinity, the same applies to many manufacturers. Even if you hardly notice it as a biker, Taiwan is the unofficial center of the global bike industry. Here are some of the largest manufacturers who manufacture the products for many of the bike and component brands we know.
The Taiwanese-German corporate culture
We admit it: Up until now we had always associated working conditions in the Far East with drill, long and unfortunately often exploitative work shifts. But in production at MERIDA we were able to get a completely different picture. The working atmosphere is harmonious, pleasant and the mentality is right. Just-in-time productions in particular require a high level of flexibility, a sense of responsibility and the willingness to familiarize themselves with more complex processes from employees.
Due to increasing price pressure, many Taiwanese manufacturers - including MERIDA - started manufacturing on the Chinese mainland years ago. However, some now have factories or partners in other Asian countries, because costs in China have changed significantly over the past few years and China is no longer a low-wage country either. Since we only saw the production facility at the headquarters, we can honestly only report what we saw there:
In the organically grown, partly angled factory halls, the most modern CNC machines are used for milling, welding with robots and, in between, a lot of manual production. You can see which parts of the factory are older and which are newer and you can relive the growth of MERIDA.
Good long-term collaboration with both internal employees and business partners is right at the top of the MERIDA agenda. How did the positive working atmosphere and the mutual pulling together come about? During the third cup of oolong, William explained it to us like this: Empowerment, in this case transferring responsibility to the employees and the flat management structure. Both ensure that every employee can contribute and realize their ideas. And that works best when there are no strict guidelines in the form of one-dimensional performance indicators, but when each individual is given scope for creativity and action. However, it is expected that ideas and input are discussed openly with the employees concerned in advance of a decision in order to achieve an optimal result.
In addition, there is a bonus system for all employees who, as co-owners, participate directly in the company's profit, and the friendly interaction - both in the team and with customers and partners - reflects this appreciation. "People make mistakes, I make mistakes, you make mistakes ... That is human and shouldn't cause a headache," William explained his down-to-earth philosophy to us, which is in stark contrast to the hire-and-fire mentality of many American companies and us too surprised.
Asian wisdom and MERIDA as the e-bike pioneer of the 90s
The positive mood is not only visible at work, but also during the strictly observed breaks, where people like to have fun or where - as is now the case all over the world - the smartphone has become a favorite pastime.
The calligraphy with work instructions on the walls of the factory halls are an expression of the Asian wisdom teachings that are subtly lived at MERIDA in everyday life. The company premises are opposite a temple that is dedicated to the patron god of the country. The company building itself is based on the theory of harmony in Feng Shui - with a river in front of the company entrance and a small mountain in the back. Incidentally, the mountain served as a test track for the first e-bike developed entirely by MERIDA, which we were also able to test ride during our visit. This bike was developed in the 90s, from the frame construction to the control unit and battery to the torque sensor.
"It was an adventure, nobody knew where the path would lead," William explained the starting point at the time. But although the first design awards were won, the success could not set in. The market was still too small, some components could not be produced in sufficient numbers, and marketing and sales were still asleep. The legislation for e-bike mobility was regulated, but there were hardly any buyers. "But we always believed in the idea, sometimes you just have to be a pioneer." Williams eyes shone as he told us this - no trace of regret about wasted resources, but an awareness that times are constantly changing and those are changing Once an experience would pay for it at some point.
Perhaps it is also due to this know-how and this pioneering spirit that the Taiwanese company can adapt so quickly to new needs and challenges: Within six months, an e-bike production was later set up, with a current number of units of around 900 e-bikes per day - and that in accordance with the requirements from 40 countries, because many countries have their own software provisions and regulations in operation.
Benjamin Diemer, Senior Product Manager for E-Bikes in Germany, remembered this recent story well during our conversation, which also represented his early days at MERIDA. Although he had been hired as Product Manager E-Bike, there was still no E-Bike production. On his first visit to Taiwan, he was shown the green field behind the existing factory and he was adamantly asserted that e-bikes would be produced there six months later. It turned out that way - and from then on there was a deep trust that at MERIDA we don't just talk, but let words be followed by deeds! The majority of the employees at the headquarters have this trust: over 20% have been with the company for over 20 years.
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