The Turkey-Michigan Forum: Trends in Research & Development with Industry continued through Wednesday afternoon. After it ended we had enough time to do some sight-seeing and some shopping. The group split up, some starting at the Hagia Sophia. Dedicated in 360, it was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. It served as the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral for Constantinople for most of its life, but also served as a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and Mosque at different periods. It is now a museum. It is a magnificent edifice.
As I had toured the Hagia Sophia on my last trip to Istanbul, I chose to return to the Grand Bazaar with some of the other participants. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops, which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. On our first trip to Istanbul, we had made a brief stop at the Bazaar in order to get out of the snow and the cold. It was nice to get inside some of the warm shops and enjoy a cup of Turkish tea. This time the weather was very warm. Several of the other Forum attendees were on a mission to purchase silk scarves for themselves, or as gifts for friends and family members. In addition to silk, the Bazaar is known as a very good place to purchase gold, silver, leather goods, beautiful rugs and antiques. The Bazaar is a labyrinth of narrow “streets” each lined with hundreds of small shops.
We agreed that the merchants are politely persistent, but respectful relative to other markets we had experienced. One of the merchants in particular stands out, with his lines of: “Let me sell you something you don’t need,” and “I won’t cheat you as much as the other guy.”
All prices are negotiable, so it is a good strategy to aggregate group purchases in order to negotiate “volume” discounts. Our group finally settled on a shop that looked promising. As an added bonus, it was air-conditioned, which was a welcome relief from the heat. After choosing the scarves they wanted and negotiating for what everyone agreed was a fair price (which included walking out of the shop once), we left the shop contented. And then came the line that seems to be standard when finishing up business with a shop owner: “Thank you for your purchases, now let me introduce you to my brother/uncle/cousin next door with the rug shop.” It seems everyone has “relative” in the rug business. I can only assume they are the highest margin product there, as rugs seem to be the most aggressively marketed item. Of course, since they know we are not from Turkey, they “will be happy to arrange shipping” for us. We declined to visit the rug shop, even though they are very beautiful. It was getting close to closing time, 7:00pm, or 19:00, in the local vernacular, and some of our group wanted to purchase some jewelry items as gifts. Time flies when choosing from thousands of scarf designs and spending time negotiating prices!
We then connected with some other Forum attendees for dinner. We didn’t want to make it a very late night, as we had an early start the next morning.
On Thursday, we left our hotel at 6:30am in order to catch a 7:30am ferry to Bursa. Bursa lies across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul. It takes about 4 – 5 hours to drive there, as you need to maneuver through Istanbul traffic, and then drive around the Sea of Marmara and Bay of Izmit. The ferry trip is 1.5 hours. Before boarding the ferry, there is a security check, where bags are X-rayed and passengers pass through metal detectors. We took a large ferry which carried automobiles as well as passengers. The passengers consisted of bicyclists, backpackers, business people and vacationing families. After arriving at the dock, it is still approximately a half-hour bus ride to Bursa over a small coastal mountain range and into the valley where Bursa sits.
We were guests of the Uludağ Automotive Exporters’ Association (OIB), which is based in Bursa, a major center of Turkey’s automotive industry. Since LEAP had signed an MOU with OIB on Tuesday afternoon, I was very eager to learn more about the region and its industries. OIB had a bus waiting for us.
OIB had a busy day planned for us. Our first stop was at the OIB Automotive Technical High School. A what?! Yes, a high school. OIB opened this school for the 2010/2011 school year with 180 Freshmen students. In the just completed 2011/2012 school year they added 180 more Freshmen students. In two more years, they will have their first graduating class, and be at their planned enrollment of 720 students. It is partially a residential high school with dormitories for 250 boys and 50 girls on site. The entire campus and facilities are brand new. The design was chosen through an architectural competition.
The high school was founded as a way to help increase Turkey’s number of technical workers in the automobile industry. This shows that talent development is important around the globe. Along with the normal high school subjects, the students learn about all the systems in an automobile, with very well equipped laboratories. For example, there were separate lab facilities for gasoline and diesel engines (remember, diesels are much more popular around the world than in the US), each with at least a dozen engines of different sizes, along with cut-away cars showing how everything is integrated. I recently had the opportunity to tour the facilities at LCC-West, and there are a lot of similarities. What is different though is that the students are in the building all day, many of them living on campus, and the facility is 100% dedicated to automotive systems education. The plan is for the students to enter the automotive industry after graduating, some immediately, others after pursuing technical degrees. Students are chosen from a pool of applicants, with fees covered by OIB and the government. I think of it as a specialized charter school. Like LCC-West, The Technical High School enjoys strong support from the local auto industry, particularly two of the larger manufacturing companies in the region: Fiat and Renault. Their names were on many of the labs, and many of the engines and car bodies carried their logos.
Regrettably, we were on a tight schedule, so we didn’t have an opportunity to ask many questions. The theme that is shared with our region though, is workforce preparation and talent development.
We next visited ULUTEK, the cyberpark of Uludağ University. We received a brief presentation of their work to incubate and commercialize technologies from the University. Again, this mirrors the work of that MSU’s Spartan Innovations and LEAP’s New Economy team.
Our next stop was at Beyçelik Gestamp, our first automotive related manufacturer of the day. This name should sound somewhat familiar to some of you, since we have a Gestamp facility in Mason. This particular factory is a joint venture between a Turkish firm and Gestamp, of Spain. The Turkish firm was a successful metal stamping and die making operation, and joined with Gestamp to expand its success throughout Europe. Our local facility is wholly owned by Gestamp. I had the opportunity to meet the CEO, as well as the General Manager. The General Manager was well aware of our Mason facility, as he had visited there. This is another example of the global nature of the auto industry. The company gave us an overview of their processes (stamping out metal body parts for the local auto assembly facilities), provided us an excellent traditional Turkish lunch (chicken, lamb, a lot of fresh vegetables, with baklava and rice pudding as desserts), and gave us a tour of their modern facility. Along with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, it was very interesting to walk through a long hallway in the production facility with interesting décor. One side of the hallway was covered with wall-sized photos of employees and their families enjoying themselves at company outings/picnics, and on the other side were wall-sized pieces of children’s artwork, which I assume were created by employees’ children.
Our next stop was at Martur Automotive Seating Systems. The company was founded in 1983 to produce molded foam, and is now one of leading suppliers for production of automotive seats worldwide. To supply globally, they partner with major Tier 1 suppliers such as JCI and Magna. The company designs and manufactures seats and interior parts for automobiles, light commercial vehicles and buses. Additionally, Martur also design and manufactures automotive fabrics. We were provided presentations by the Directors of Business Development and R&D, the Manager of Textile R&D, and Senior Specialist of R&D. What I found most interesting about Martur is that it is a completely integrated company, from designing new seats – they were very proud of a fold-away front seat which was going to be featured in a new model which they wouldn’t identify – to having their own steel service center, stamping and seat frame assembly operations, to weaving, knitting and dyeing their own fabric (starting from a monofilament), sewing their own covers, to manufacturing their own foam (how the company started) scrim and mechanisms. It made me think of Ford’s River Rouge facility. Raw steel and monofilament go in – and complete seat assemblies come out. Unfortunately, we did not have time to tour the facilities to see this all for ourselves – we had to move on to our next stop, so all we were able to observe was their presentation, while enjoying Turkish tea, of course.
We next went to Durmazlar. This company manufactures high performance machines used for forming sheet metal, under the DURMA brand name. Their line consists of: Press Brakes, Shears, Punches, Laser Cutters, Plasma Cutters, Plate Rolls, Profile Benders, Bandsaws, Corner Notchers, and Ironworkers (multi-functional machines combining many of these processes). The company sells globally. We had a brief walk-through one of their facilities and then a presentation by their R&D Director.
You may notice a theme to the presentations we received on these company tours: Research and Development. Clearly, our hosts focused this tour on that because our group was in Turkey to attend the Turkey-Michigan Forum: Trends in Research & Development with Industry.
Each of the facilities we visited was in a large industrial zone, so the travel time between the stops was short. Our final stop of the tour was in a different location, so we traveled a bit further to the Tofaş Türk Otomobil Fabrikasi. This is a Fiat vehicle assembly facility, producing the Doblo light commercial vehicle, which won “International Commercial Van of the Year” for 2011, and the Linea small passenger car. It is a competitor vehicle to the Ford Transit Connect, which is also assembled in Turkey. Tofaş is Turkey’s largest automobile and light commercial vehicle manufacturer. In addition to Fiat vehicles, the company assembles vehicles for Citroen, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall. We only had time to visit two of the plant’s main departments: the stamping facility (our second one of the day), and the mechanical assembly area – where the chassis and powertrain components are married with the vehicle bodies.
And then, it was time for our group to get back on our bus to catch the ferry back to Istanbul. Well, most of the group, anyway. Lindsay Eister of the MEDC and I left the group at that point. If you remember, Lindsay was one of the two MEDC staff people who joined us electronically for the seminar we conducted in April, when it was 2:30 on a Monday morning! This time, she was able to join us in Turkey. We caught a Fiat Doblo cab to our hotel for the evening. I had arranged a dinner with a prospect for that evening, and prospect appointments the next day.
Bursa sits in a lush valley at the foot of Mount Uludağ which historically was known as Olympus (one of several mountains by that name), and the city was known as Prusa ad Olympum from its position near the mountain. Mount Uludağ/Olympus is the highest mountain in the Marmara region, reaching 8,343 feet at its peak. It is a very popular winter skiing destination. Bursa is also known for its thermal baths. The City was one of the largest centers for the silk trade during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, and is still known as a center for purchasing silk products, with its own Silk Market. Bursa served as the capital of the Ottoman State between 1326 and 1365, so I am certain there are fascinating places to visit and learn more, but there was no time on this trip.
With a population of 2,650,000, Bursa is Turkey’s fourth largest city. With a population one-fifth the size of Istanbul, we could certainly notice a difference in the traffic. Because of its location in a valley the climate is lush. The city’s nickname is “Green Bursa”, referring to the parks and gardens within its urban environment, as well as the vast forests in the surrounding region. While traveling between appointments, we paralleled a long greenway, with a waterway/river and a trail alongside. It reminded me of our own River Trail.
There was one distinctly different architectural feature we noticed right away in the Bursa region. The domes on the Mosques are all silver. They reflected the bright sun so it was very easy to pick out the mosques in the region.
After very promising prospect visits on Friday, Lindsay and I returned to Istanbul. This time we took a smaller, passenger-only ferry. We departed on Saturday morning for our return flights to Michigan.
View Ray’s photos here.