Reports from China indicate that Tesla has started its search for a Design Director based in the region. This forms part of the EV company’s plans to establish a fully functioning studio either in Beijing or Shanghai to design electric cars specific to the Chinese market. This falls in with comments that Tesla CEO Elon Musk made last year at an event in Shanghai:
"I think something that would be super cool would be ... to create a China design and engineering center to actually design an original car in China for worldwide consumption. I think this would be very exciting."
Tesla’s talent search started in September with a lot of activity was noticed on LinkedIn which was used to approach applicants. Tesla is hoping to find a bi-cultural designer with a wealth of experience that can bridge the gap between the region’s consumer preferences and American attributes that already exist within the car maker’s fleet.
Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s main Design Chief has already interviewed several candidates but no confirmation on an appointment has been announced yet.
Rumors speculate that when a China-based Design Director is hired, it would involve the additional recruiting of a design team that will include modelers who can transform design concepts into clay models. When a 3D vehicle design is finalized, it would be sent to Tesla’s engineers in California.
Designs would be based on research to determine Chinese consumer needs and after approval from the US-based team, the vehicles will be manufactured at Tesla’s Giga Factory in Shanghai.
China has the biggest market for cars including all-electric cars where sales are expected to hit about 1.5 million vehicles in 2021. It has also become Tesla’s second largest market, with the United States being first.
Plans for a Tesla design studio are not finalized, which could be partly due to edgy relations between the US and China. After Biden’s inauguration, the US-China posture will be clearer for Tesla to make its move in concrete plans. Musk has always been motivated to develop cars in the Asian country to penetrate the market even more and boost Tesla’s sales volumes.
The approach of having a design specific to the Chinese market is a good approach to ensure Tesla’s next range of vehicles will be enthusiastically adopted by the market. It may very well end up that Tesla China becomes an independent force of its own.
An estimated 145,000 Tesla EVs were purchased in the Chinese market last year and accounted for about a third of the US-based company’s global sales.
It is expected that Tesla will bring in a low cost model similar to what the CEO mentioned at the company’s Battery Day last year. Musk was fairly confident that his car company would be able to produce a mass market vehicle in the US$25,000 price range.
It would obviously be smaller than Tesla’s current vehicles, but the aim is to make an electric vehicle that is affordable and in line with many of the gas powered cars available. Smaller vehicles are typically not a big hit in the US as that market has a proclivity for larger vehicles, big pickup trucks, and family sedans. So, while compact cars make up 10% of the US auto market, they are more popular at 25% of China’s vehicle market sales.
Although there’s a small market segment in the US that will go for an affordable compact Tesla EV, it would still do well in China, other parts of Asia and Europe while giving the likes of the VW Golf and Toyota Corolla a run for their money.