Chinese company Chery Automobile is planning to open a new design and development center near Frankfurt, Germany, in January 2019. It will be led by former Mazda Europe design director Kevin Rice, who officially joined Chery as Design VP on October 1, 2018.
The initial plan was to open the R&D center in Berlin where former executive design director James Hope was stationed, but these plans have since changed.
Chery’s design operations will now be run by new hire Kevin Rice, who comes from his role as European design director for Mazda. Rice was appointed to succeed Peter Birtwhistle, who retired from Mazda in 2014.
Prior to returning to Mazda following a 13-year hiatus, Rice held positions at BMW (where he was responsible for the exterior design of the 4 Series, amongst others), Italdesign and Opel.
The main focus of Chery Automobile’s new studio is to prepare for the market launch of the carmaker’s premium Exceed sub-brand in European markets sometime in 2020. The automaker is certainly conscious of the fact that establishing a presence in the European market is an important step towards achieving global recognition and success.
The new European R&D center, which will be in the city of Raunheim am Main, will employ roughly 30-50 people by the end of 2019, the first hiring phase.
Besides research and development, the new facility will also house design as well as marketing and sales functions.
No mention has been made as to the exact number of automotive designers that will be employed at the new facility.
There are many Chinese automakers that are establishing design centers in Germany. Clearly a design studio (or research and development center) is important for scouting trends when creating global vehicles that are better suited to the tastes of European buyers.
But opening a design studio in Germany is also vital in securing the talent that globally ambitious manufacturers require. Many designers are no longer interested in going to China and there’s been an influx of designers returning to Europe in recent years.
Chery Automobile Co. claims to be China’s leading exporter of vehicles, responsible for nearly 30% of all Chinese vehicle exports. The company states that it has sold more than 1.5 million vehicle units globally, but that is all relative. Chery did not exist until 1997.
In the last 20 years, Chery Automobile has grown to become one of the most popular vehicle manufacturers in China, but has also experienced some shortfalls. In 2017, the carmaker sold 4.5% less vehicles than the previous year, which led to a 22% drop in profits and a rise in debt.
Since Form Trends first reported James Hope’s appointment back in 2012 there have been a lot of significant changes within design, which helped spur sales and boost the brand’s image. But Hope moved back to Europe last year and the design team that he helped build at Chery have all since left to take up positions for other automakers.
Based in Anhui, China, Chery Automobile is backed by majority shareholder Wuhu Construction Investment (a government owned company) as well as Wuhu Ruichang Investment and Huatai Securities.
According to Chinese media reports, Chery Automobile could soon face new ownership, a move that would bring in much-needed investment capital and aid in the development of new energy electric vehicles.
Should Chery be sold, this will also mean more management changes.
A number of companies have shown interest, but a potential suitor has not yet been named.