If ever a Chinese company needed a new brand, it’s white-goods and consumer-electronics maker Haier. The company is a success story, with its refrigerators and washing machines and TVs selling well in China and, increasingly, in the U.S. and other foreign countries. But what sort of a name is Haier? Other Chinese companies have come up with good brands to use when marketing overseas: Think about Lenovo, the PC maker, and TCL, the TV company. In Chinese, the name Haier doesn’t do much: The first character is “sea” and the second is just a sort of an empty stand-in, a character that the Chinese use when phonetically writing foreign words. But at least a Chinese person knows how to say the name. For a native English speaker without a clue about how you have to split the name up in two (“hi” and “are”) those three vowels all in row can render the word unpronounceable.
Haier’s unfortunate name has bothered me for a long time.(I know, I need to get out more.) Yet Haier has managed to push ahead with its overseas expansion, despite the fact that its brand doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Haier has a nice American HQ in New York and a plant in South Carolina. The company is in the news today thanks to a visit to South Carolina by Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi. She’s now on a tour of the U.S., announcing plans for Chinese companies to buy American. According to this report in the South Carolina newspaper The State, Wu says that Haier plans to invest $150 million at its South Carolina factory and hire another 1,000 workers there, in addition to the 200 people already employed there.
The timing is obviously part of a campaign to defuse anti-China tension in the U.S. ahead of President Hu Jintao’s trip to Washington at the end of the month. And South Carolina industries – textiles and furniture, to name two – have been hit hard by competition from low-cost rivals in China. So who knows if this Haier announcement will do much to win friends in South Carolina. But with investment numbers like the ones Haier has announced, chances are good that South Carolina will be one place where people won’t have a problem with Haier’s name.