BEIJING - Chinese drivers view their cars as a second home, so engineers at the Delphi China Technical Center designed a DVD/radio system for its customers in China.
Now the graphics controller in the audio system is part of Delphi's global building block collection.
Chinese engineers have long adapted products developed elsewhere for use in the China market. Now they are starting to develop applications for global use. Companies like Delphi are counting on their China technical centers to become key players in the global engineering network.
As that capability grows, Delphi officials expect the China Technical Center to become Delphi's largest electronics research center worldwide. Investment will hit $50 million.
"In China, the video graphics engineering capability is very high," says Douglas Brandt, director of business planning for electronic and safety systems at Delphi Automotive Systems (China) Holding Co.
Already Delphi's China customers are offered a range of services. "We have full design, release and calibration activity here in China, as well as development," says the center's engineering director, Joseph Zachariah.
In the past year, the technical center has grown to two office buildings and a heavy- and medium-duty testing lab. Inside the buildings, 350 engineers collaborate with other Delphi engineers in places such as Singapore and India to design new products.
By 2010, another heavy- and medium-duty testing lab will be added. About 1,400 people will work at the center, two-thirds of them engineers.
Currently, the center's work on global products is limited. Besides video graphics, Shanghai has a team of 15 people who approve circuit boards for global use on some electronic components. Chinese engineers are designing an engine module for use in China and India.
That is not because of a lack of ability. Rather, it is a function of the center's age - it is only 2 years old. Delphi is building up the Shanghai team's skill set, says Jay Jiang, deputy general manager of public affairs.
Zachariah, who hails from India and spent five years as director of Delphi's tech center in Bangalore, points to India as a model for China. Now 5 years old, the India center has 2,500 engineers and works with Delphi's global operations on simulation testing and software analysis.
China's auto market is growing so fast that Delphi's Chinese engineers "are still not doing a lot of vehicles from the ground up," Brandt admits.
But that fast growth, and the pace of new model releases, gives Chinese engineers a skill that U.S. automakers will need as they try to remain competitive : speed. "Cycle times here are faster than anywhere in the world," Brandt says, "so you learn to go fast."
He adds: "Speed is everything in this business."
You may e-mail Alysha Webb at [email protected]