Exclusive: Tesla seeks design chief to create cars for China – sources



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BEIJING (Reuters) – Tesla Inc is seeking design director in China, as part of efforts to open a ‘full’ studio in Shanghai or Beijing and design electric cars to suit Chinese consumers’ tastes, three people say knowing the material.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors wearing face masks check out a China-made Tesla Model Y sport utility vehicle (SUV) at the electric vehicle maker’s showroom in Beijing, China January 5, 2021. REUTERS / Tingshu Wang / File Photo

Human resources officials at the U.S. automaker, along with several headhunters, have trawled the industry for the past four months, the sources say.

They are looking for “bicultural” candidates with at least 20 years of experience, familiar with Chinese tastes and able to bridge the gap between China and the United States, they added.

Some candidates were interviewed by Tesla’s global design chief Franz von Holzhausen, according to people, although it is not known how many potential candidates were approached by the company and recruiters.

All three sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity and confidential nature of the matter.

Tesla and von Holzhausen did not respond to email requests for comment.

China is the world’s largest automobile market, as well as the largest for all-electric vehicles, with sales volumes expected to reach around 1.5 million vehicles this year, according to consultancy LMC Automotive. It is also Tesla’s second largest market after the United States.

The automaker’s plans for the design studio are not fully developed, and sources believe Tesla will likely wait for more clarity on the strained U.S.-China relationship under the leadership of a new U.S. president before make a final decision on the move and all of its details.

The search for talent, which the sources said was mostly concentrated in China, matches comments from Tesla boss Elon Musk early last year.

“I think something super cool would be… to set up a design and engineering center in China to design an original car in China for global consumption. I think it would be very exciting, ”he said at a media event in Shanghai.

ACTIVITY WARNING

Musk’s interest in car development in China is part of a larger push by Tesla to increase the company’s global sales volume well beyond the 500,000 vehicles per year mark it was at. barely 450 to reach in 2020.

The three sources said Tesla’s search for a studio director in China began around September and that there was a surge of activity as recently as December, when a number of headhunters used LinkedIn and other means to approach candidates.

One of the sources, who is familiar with Tesla’s headhunting business in China, said that once a design director is hired, Tesla will recruit the director’s team, which is likely to be around 20 people and would include designers and modelers who help turn design renderings into clay. models.

All sources said that the planned center aims to be a complete design structure, with one describing it as a “complete studio,” which would not only help conceptualize a car’s design, but also to propose the final form – three digital – dimensional data – of a model.

The data could then be passed on to Tesla’s vehicle engineers, mainly based in northern California.

Two of the sources said that Tesla’s Chinese studio will likely also conduct research on the tastes of Chinese consumers, as well as work for the cars that are expected to be produced at Tesla’s vehicle assembly plant in Shanghai, where the Designs are fine-tuned to ensure that specific components match the engineers. Characteristics.

“They want to give the vehicle design a lot more bias towards China; they’ve done a lot here already, setting up a major manufacturing site and having sold a ton of EVs, but it looks like Tesla is ready to take root, ”one of the sources said.

This push could lead to a more independent Tesla China, added the person, who has spent more than a decade in the country working at design centers run by global automakers, among others.

Chinese consumers bought about 145,000 Tesla vehicles last year, which is about a third of the company’s overall global volumes, LMC said.

$ 25,000 ELECTRIC CAR

Two of the sources said a likely “China-specific” model was a lower-cost volume generator, such as a $ 25,000 electric car that Musk referred to at a Battery Day event in September, which he said. said Tesla could aim to market for around three years.

Musk said Tesla was confident he would be able to hit the market with “a very compelling $ 25,000 electric vehicle that is also fully self-contained.”

At that price, according to two of the sources as well as industry experts, it was likely a compact car, smaller than Tesla’s Model 3, that would be as affordable as some traditional gasoline vehicles.

Compact cars aren’t big sellers in the United States, where bigger, taller vehicles such as Ford’s pickup truck and F-150 SUVs, as well as midsize sedans, dominate the road.

They represent about 10% of the overall vehicle market in America. In contrast, compacts account for 25% of sales in China, or around 5 to 6 million cars per year, according to consulting firm LMC Automotive.

That’s why the $ 25,000 car that Musk discussed would be better suited to the Chinese market, according to the two sources and industry experts.

“A Tesla compact car would do well in China, as well as the rest of Asia and Europe,” said Yale Zhang, director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight. “It could potentially seriously hurt sales of cars like the Toyota Corolla and the Volkswagen Golf.”

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Additional reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Pravin Char

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