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If you are an engineer with some EV experience, China needs you!

December 17, 2010

I’ve written about potential potholes in China’s road to world domination of the electric vehicle segment. They range from lack of domestic battery management system technology for large battery packs and short battery life to process technology issues.

Even if China can avoid these potholes—it can simply buy some of the technologies, for example—it faces another potentially serious problem. There aren’t enough engineers in China with expertise in electric drivetrains.

There is a lot of controversy in China about the availability of engineers in China, says Majdi Abulaban, managing director, Asia Pacific for Delphi Automotive LLP. Delphi has a large technical center in Shanghai that employs 700 engineers.  For all of China, Delphi employs about 1,500 engineers. Not all work on electrification, however.  Delphi has about 150 (please note this is a correction. Delphi sent me an incorrect figure initially.)  engineers in the Asia Pacific region working on China-related hybrid and EV projects, says Abulaban.

Majdi Abulaban, managing director Asia Pacific for Delphi Automotive, says there is a shortage of engineers with electrification experience in China. Not too surprising since the technology is so new.

Sure, Chinese universities graduate a lot of engineers each year, he says. But trained engineers, with five to 10 years experience, are hard to find. “There is an ample supply of college graduates,” he says. “The issue for us is, do we have time to train them?”

This problem isn’t unique to China. In the December 13 issue of Automotive News, Dave Guilford writes that automakers and suppliers in the U.S. are having a hard time finding enough engineers to work on electric-drive powertrains.

The scale of the problem in China is worse, however. For one, rather than a handful automakers (and, granted, quite a few suppliers) trying to find engineers to work on electrification, China has dozens of automakers being “urged” (and that was toned down, at C.C.’s request) by the government to produce electric vehicles, says C.C. Chan, president of the World Electric Vehicle Association. Chan, who is based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, advises the Chinese government on its electrification strategy.

C.C. Chan says the government is pressuring all of China's domestic automakers to develop electric vehicles.

To refresh your memory, or create one: By 2020, the government’s plan calls for China to produce and sell one million battery-electric and plug in hybrid electric cars annually.  Some 5 million such vehicles will be plying China’s roads by then, if all goes according to plan.

This mandate is likely giving the top guys at China’s domestic automakers gray hairs, though they will use black dye to hide them. Indeed, Abulaban,  says they are all trying to figure out how to comply.

“How do you map this out when you haven’t figured out how to compete in the traditional (automotive) technology?” he asks rhetorically. “If you can’t develop and design a traditional combustion vehicle, how can you leapfrog into the electric vehicle segment?”

For Delphi, the mandate to create a huge EV industry in China is very good news, however. Delphi has long been a leader in two areas crucial to electrification—green technology and vehicle connectivity, says Abulaban. From battery cell monitors to DC/AC inverters, Delphi produces everything in an electric drivetrain except the battery cell itself, and the motor.  

So while Abulaban doesn’t think the number of EVs in China will reach the “ambitious” levels the government is calling for, electrification will be an important part of Delphi’s future business in China, he says.

Already, the China market is growing so fast (for traditional technology as well as EV technology), that Delphi is considering adding another technical center, most likely in one of China’s inland cities, says Abulaban.  Cities that are already have a large automotive base such as Chongqing, Chengdu, or Wuhan are top candidates, he says.

“The manufacturing base in the west is well-established,” says Abulaban. “The question is: How fast can you develop the technical facilities?” That is, can you hire enough engineers?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lawrence permalink
    December 22, 2010 6:49 pm

    An engineer shortage is only one problem. The other will be qualified technicians to service these vehicles. Even the “old energy” technician count is likely to have a hard time keeping up with the growth of PARC.

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