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China Billionaires Chasing Electric-Car Talent Power Salaries

China’s biggest iPhone maker, largest e-commerce company and leading internet-video producer are all in the hunt to build electric cars — and to grab the small pool of available talent to build them.

More than 200 Chinese companies — with backers including Terry Gou, Ma Huateng, Jack Ma and Jia Yueting — are developing 4,000 models of new-energy vehicles and unveiling prototypes at motor shows and home-electronics expos. Traditional automakers and a bevy of startups see opportunity in the government’s commitment to boost yearly sales of NEVs by a factor of 10 in the next decade.

China surpassed the U.S. last year to become the world’s biggest market for new-energy vehicles, a fleet comprising electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell cars. Domestic automakers sold 331,092 units in 2015, according to the state-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The government has set a sales target of 3 million units a year by 2025. China also is accelerating construction of charging stations to serve 5 million electric vehicles by 2020.

The positions in top demand include designers, software developers and engineers focusing on systems architecture and creating “smart cities,” said Shirley Xia, an auto-industry recruiter in Beijing for Aimsen & Company.

Recently, Xia and seven colleagues suspended all projects for 45 days to search for an engineer to design charging poles for electric vehicles. Their client, an auto parts maker, wanted someone with at least three years of experience but settled for a candidate with half that.

Salaries for key research-and-development workers have risen 30 percent this year, with some reaching 1 million yuan ($151,000), said Jennifer Feng, chief human resource expert at Shanghai-based 51job Inc. That’s almost 16 times the national average for urban Chinese, based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

A lot of that money is being spent on recruiting for the corporate suite, with companies backed by some of Greater China’s richest people hiring top executives from rivals and from Silicon Valley to help distinguish themselves.

Take Future Mobility Corp., an EV-maker backed by Gou’s Foxconn Technology Group and Ma’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. The company hired Daniel Kirchert, who was president of Dongfeng Infiniti Motor Co., and Carsten Breitfeld, project manager for BMW AG’s i8 plug-in sports car. Then it lured more managers from BMW.

Internet entrepreneur William Li’s NextEV Inc. hired Padmasree Warrior, Cisco Systems Inc.’s former technology chief, to lead its U.S. operations.

The presence of those high profiles usually attracts workers who can actually build cars. Only about a quarter of the 4,000-plus NEVs approved by the government are in production, according to a National Development and Reform Commission survey. Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is partnering with SAIC Motor Corp. on an internet-connected SUV called the Roewe RX5.

Yet public subsidies that can total 60 percent of an EV’s sticker price are helping fuel a manufacturing boom. For the first half of this year, China produced 177,000 NEVs, more than double the same period a year ago, the manufacturers’ association said.

“Talent is one of many things these EV startups need to get right,” Robin Zhu, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Sanford C Bernstein, said in an e-mail. “It may even be the most important, given how early stage many are at this point, and particularly given the realities of fund raising (investors back the best people).”

Credit: Bloomberg

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