According to breaking news from Reuters, Tesla is currently seeking a design director for electric vehicles sold in the China market. The design director will be responsible for designing vehicles that are uniquely suited to the tastes of Chinese who may be interested in buying an electric vehicle.
“They want to give vehicle design a lot more bias toward China; they have already done a lot here, setting up a major manufacturing site and having sold a ton of EVs, but it seems Tesla’s ready to put roots down,” said an anonymous source familiar with the matter.
The ideal candidate will be “bi-cultural,” capable of understanding the tastes of Chinese nationals and bridging the gap between Tesla’s American headquarters and its Chinese operations, and have at least 20 years of experience. Tesla’s global design chief, Franz von Holzhausen, has already interviewed several candidates for the position. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously hinted at taking the Chinese market more seriously in early 2020 with remarks at a media event in Shanghai, where one of Tesla’s Gigafactories produces electric vehicles for the Asian market:
“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.”
Even without cars that have been specifically designed for Asian markets, China snapped up 145,000 Tesla vehicles in 2020, making the country Tesla’s second largest market after the United States. China is also the largest market for automobiles overall. Industry analyst LMC Automotive expects that Chinese customers will purchase 1.5 million electric vehicles in 2021. For reference, Tesla alone delivered 499,550 vehicles in 2020, a record-setting year yet still just shy of its goal of 500,000 vehicles delivered.
Tesla vehicles are often seen as a high-priced status symbol in most parts of the world. Elon Musk has hinted that he would like to change that with an upcoming model with a base suggested retail price of $25,000. It will likely be a compact car comparable in price to some gas-powered vehicles. Although compact cars do not have a huge market in the United States, Chinese demand for compact vehicles tends to be strong. Compact models account for about 25% of car sales in China.
“A compact Tesla car … could potentially put a serious dent in sales of cars like Toyota’s Corolla and the Volkswagen Golf,” said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.
Tesla may face stiff competition from established automobile manufacturers. While Tesla did take the top two slots in sales of electric vehicle models with the Model S and Model 3, the competitor models Porsche Taycan, Lexus ES Hybrid, and BWI i3 rounded out the top five in units sold for hybrid and electric vehicles in 2019. Other top fully electric vehicles include the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.
Even with the competition, Tesla may be able to push sales well past the 500,000 mark with its focus on international markets. As part of this effort, Tesla plans to hire a team of 20 China-based designers who will include modelers capable of transforming rendered computer designs into clay models. It referred to this plan as the creation of a “full-function studio.” The model could then be sent to Tesla’s vehicle engineers in northern California.