Chrysler LLC has opened an engineering office in Shanghai, China, part of a much larger expansion by the Auburn Hills automaker to beef up its product design efforts outside the United States.By the end of the year, Chrysler plans to hire about 1,000 new engineers outside the United States, Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development, told the Free Press in an interview.
"When you start being able to do your product development ... it shows our commitment. ... It's not just import and hope to sell," Klegon said. "We're going to localize and develop for those customers."
The new hires will be part of the efforts to create so-called Centers of Excellence in China, India, Mexico and Eastern Europe. The hiring spree comes as the automaker is cutting jobs in the United States and Canada -- as many as 25,000 by next year.
Just this month, for example, Chrysler announced an outsourcing deal with two computer companies that will lead to several hundred information-technology jobs being lost at its Auburn Hills headquarters -- a move the company says will not only save money but allow the companies to better serve computer users.
As Chrysler makes plans to sell more vehicles in countries outside Canada and the United States, the automaker wants to have engineers working on projects for those markets, Klegon said. It also helps the company work with local suppliers.
Chrysler's operation in Santa Fe, a business district in Mexico City, is the template for how the automaker wants its centers to run, Klegon said.
"They're already doing unique product for Mexico that's designed and developed in Santa Fe and for sale in Mexico by themselves," Klegon said. "It's a resource center that we're building upon. They started out as more of a vehicle development and test facility and moved them into design."
Chrysler says it already has about 200 product development workers in its Mexico office and wants to add around 450 more by year's end.
In China, the automaker wants to add 250 more people to its product development staff, which is now around 100.
Klegon visited Chrysler's new Shanghai office earlier this month where engineers are working on a unique update to the Chrysler 300 to suit local Chinese tastes, he said.
The Chrysler 300 in China is primarily driven by chauffeurs so Chrysler is putting new attention on the backseat, he said. Next the group is to work on local emissions standards, powertrains and supplier development.
"For China, I want to have people who can do local design and development for our products that we build and design in China," Klegon said.
Chrysler needs to have 40% local sourcing in China to be considered a local vehicle, he added. "Now with my growing team there, they'll be doing the analysis" and finding local suppliers.
In India, Chrysler already has about 200 engineers and wants to double that number by the end of the year, according to the company.
Chrysler's product developers in India have been primarily doing analysis work and will begin to do some supplier development, Klegon said.
"The bigger step will depend on what we choose to do ... in India," he said.
Klegon said the company is still looking for a site for an engineering office in eastern Europe, noting that Romania, Poland and Russia are options.