From Jetta to Tesla, the “Chinese” parts are in a car: How does China become a part of the global automotive industry chain

Country/area: Hong Kong S.A.R., China

Organisation: Initium Media (端傳媒)

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 14 Sep 2020

Credit: Iris Yang Yu, Tseng Lee, Athena Kuo, Lulu Ning Hui, Peng Liu, Felix

Project description:

It is a 3-D interactive page that breaks a car (from Volkwagen’s Jetta to Tesla) apart into key parts with detailed investigation into the global supply chain of each parts and their development in China. The context of this project was a time in the beginning of pandemic that economic de-coupling from China was heavily discussed. We chose one of the most globalised industry, auto-mobile, as an example, to tell the story of exactly how China became a significant part of global car industrial chain and what’s its weak parts.

Impact reached:

The 3D image and smoothing reading experience of this project brought a lot interest from readers who may not necessary concerned about automobile industry or car making in general. While a lot of readers are attracted to the page because of the images, the data on such an important global supply chain made an impression. A continuing in-depth reporting story on German carmaker Volkswagen‘s dependency on Chinese market was able to get more attention. Also, a number of organisations, from trade to education to art sector, have since approached us to ask the techniques behind this project.


It is also a project that addresses critically on a complicated economic and political debate: de-coupling. Instead of answering why de-couple, how to de-couple, who’s losing or who’s wining from a de-coupling future, we focused on, with concrete data and interesting storytelling, how particular industry is being globalised especially with China being a player. There was no car industry in China 40 years ago and now it’s the biggest. Later, in early 2021, reports will show that for instance, a lot of German companies decide to be more localised in China; our project from early 2020, when the hype was on de-coupling, demonstrated why such sectors are seeking to be more localised.


Techniques/technologies used:

The project was developed with Vue.js, compiled with Webpack, using pug as html templating language, and SASS for CSS preprocessing. We used FFMpeg to export and compress data from original video, Canvas to control the play of serialized frames according to mouse scrolling.

What was the hardest part of this project?

In terms of data and information acquisition, due to the closed and scattered data of most industries in mainland China, we search and select representative data from more than ten different main sources, such as official reports, analysis reports of securities companies, independent global industry databases.

In terms of data selection and presentation, in addition to locate no around 10 typical parts from nearly 20,000 parts in a car, the representation of parts in the global industrial chain and the corresponding timeliness are explained, which is of great significance for reviewing globalization in the year of the pandemic.

In addition, the process of translating professional and complex information into concrete 3D images for general readers is also challenging task for us, a small independent media with limited resources.

What can others learn from this project?

For other journalists, we provided a database documenting typical auto parts in mainland China and its globalisation process until 2020. At the same time, we also hope to find out for our peers, especially Chinese media, the way forward for news media to use interactive experience to tell stories and present a complex ecology.

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