BMW Designworks Singapore shuts down - Moving to Shanghai!

Interesting news: BMW Designworks in Singapore will shut down and move to Shanghai!
BMW just opened the office there just a couple of years ago with support of the local authorities…
Seems the Singaporean government is quite pissed about it:

Does anyone know what these multinational design firms opening in China are looking for? I would doubt that they are moving designworks for cheaper designers… and probably more for getting the new skill coming from China, and to cater for the booming economy. Kind of why there are automotive advanced design hubs in LA and NY.

I’m strongly considering going overseas to do some study (probably chinese language, because I can’t begin to think of doing postgrad engineering degree… especially in a foreign language)… Would they ever be looking for expatriates in China? Surely they would be there wanting local skill. Any ideas?

I think having offices around the world give global firms a few different kinds of benefits. It gives their existing designers the opportunity to transfer or work for periods of time in different cultures, helping them to round out and grow. It gives the firm the chance to build closer relationships with companies headquartered in that geography or with regional divisions of companies in that area. It also allows the firm to hire from the regional pool of talent, bringing that culture into the organization as those designers grow and potentially transfer to or collaborate with other studios.

If you are asking what a firm might be looking for, I’d say it is the desire to engage with and learn about regional culture, ability to build relationships with local companies, and the right disposition to mentor new designer from the region… along with being a really good designer, because it is absolutely essential that standards of work are at the same level globally.

BMW AG said it will invest around 1 billion euros ($1.44 billion) to expand production capacity in China as it seeks to capture surging sales growth in the world’s biggest auto market.

BMW is almost doubling its initially planned investment and production capacity at its new plant in Tiexi by around 200,000 euros over the medium term, BMW said on Monday.

BMW Group vehicles are very popular in China,” said Norbert Reithofer, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG.

“We anticipate that this growth will continue in the future. Therefore, together with our joint venture partner Brilliance, we will increase the previously-announced investment of 560 million euros in our Chinese facility in Shenyang to around one billion euros.”

The additional investment, which will be shared between the two partners, will be used to build a press shop, paint shop and to expand infrastructure at the new plant in Tiexi in preparation for higher production capacities in the future.
BMW is now building its second assembly plant in China and plans to produce the small X1 sports utility vehicle there next year.

April sales in mainland China jumped 67.2 percent to 20,800 vehicles, accounting for about 15 percent of group car sales, it said. US sales were up 18.4 percent, accounting for about 18 percent of vehicle sales.
In the first four months of the year, BMW’s vehicle sales grew 20.4 percent.

Most of all to be close to the biggest market in the world and be able to anticipate, what would look from the outside as alien design.

There will continuing benefit of a western educated approach and mastery of the Chinese language. The bigger the company the more it will be advantageous.

Some more saucy rumors out of the Singapore office: apparently the head honcho is very petty, incompetent, fat and has a track record of taking credit for work he did not do… This is especially the case in the field of aviation interior design. He can not create a decent project proposal even if his life depended on it and just copy-pastes most of it. The cunt never acquired a single project because clients generally don’t trust him.
He also has legal problems with the Swedish tax authorities and crashed the BMW company car several times! The bastard has zero integrity and was told off for messing around with budget and time sheets. This way he could go on more holidays as “business trips”. Somehow the biggest assholes get all the perks in that company. Nobody wants to work with him. That was one of the reasons to close down the office. Easy way to get rid of him and ‘promote’ him to a position where he could do less harm… They demoted him and will just leave him to rot in Shanghai until he resigns by himself.

OXOX Gossip Guy

Why does BMW have a design office in Singapore anyway, it’s a German brand.

You know the first Design Works office was in California right?

I apologize, I was being harsh. And well, everyone’s got a design office in California, no? :slight_smile:

More juice: the new office will be headed by Gerhard Steinle ( It will be a small placeholder office of maximum 10 people. It has space to put a dummy car claymodel so they can cheat clients into thinking this is a real BMW design studio. Probably interns will be doing the research and sketches while clients pay tons of money for those! Spoke to the design guy from Lenovo and he was disappointed with BMW DesignworksUSA: cost and promise a lot but show poor design leadership. Seemed that they were more interested in billing hours instead of creating the best designs.
Should be up and running in April 2012 and it is set up as a local cheapo chinese joint-venture company (required by China law). This way they can keep designer’s salaries and overhead low. Frog and IDEO seem much better organised, staffed and established in Shanghai.
OXOX Gossip Guy

It is doubtful that they will hire local designers from China… Germans seem to be a bit paranoid about security and industrial espionage:

I once met a French salesgirl for Ferrari Shanghai who explained that a couple of times a year the Ferrari factory would open up its doors to Ferrari owners to test drive new models and see how the cars are manufactured. As part of the tour the group was taken to an idyllic Italian restaurant up in the hills outside of Maranello and served authentic Italian food, the Main-land Chinese contingent of the group didn’t like the look of what they were being served and proceeded to bang the tables chanting “we want pizza, we want pizza” needless to say main-landers have not been invited back since; but what can you expect from a culture which views Pizza Hut as high cuisine. The truth is though China has advanced rapidly, the mindset has not, a peasent in a Ferrari is still a peasant and I pity the foreign designer which has to sit through a main-lander user group.

BMW’s design team will get more than they bargained for, they are possibly dealing with the most retarded customer base in the world, a car buying generation which thinks nothing of sticking transformers stickers on their track maps of Le Mons on the side of their new car in the name of ‘individuality’ and perfume bottles, jade dragons and a shed load of cuddly toys in the back window for that added status and face.

Easy tiger, that is pretty racist. I can think of plenty of other people from all sorts of nationalities that have behaved like twats. Criticise the behaviour, not the box it comes in.

A market is a market. If you want to sell to a market you listen to the market, including sitting through a user group with your own feelings of superiority. If it is the world’s biggest market for cars, you put a design center there to see if you can learn something.

And, if they are buying outrageously expensive cars and want pizza, you give them the best pizza Maranello has to offer.

Stepping back from my comments I do come of racist, however the above example is the rule and not the exception of the mainlander culture which will sooner or later become the world’s largest market for consumer goods, be prepared to give innovation and good taste the boot in order to satisfy this polarized market be it the obscenely rich or the dirt poor.

I agree with nxat’s realism and am personally fortunate enough, unlike some of my friends not to have to design for this market but feelings of superiority comes easily with daily exposure outside of the comfort zones of Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Remember, culture is not a static thing. It is a rapidly evolving organism. Having gone to China frequently over the past 10 years, sometimes 4 or 5 times per year for 2 to 3 weeks at a clip, and almost always to same towns in Southern industrialized China, I’ve been amazed at how rapidly the culture itself has changed along with the physical progress.

I think it is important to remember where Western nations stood 100 years ago culturally. Things were very very different, especially pre WWI. We had the mega rich in the robber baron class, who, in the US, often came from nothing, so they were very ostentatious. A small service middle class of doctors, lawyers and the like. Then the vast majority of everyone else who had to work the railroads, factories, and utilities in relatively poor conditions until organized labor helped to raise awareness and the quality of life for the average worker (when organized labor was doing good). The division between rich and poor was much greater and our cultural taste levels were much different as the majority of us based decisions on survival and a select few on total whim. As labor increased in quality of life, it is no wonder that the Bauhaus, Modernism, and Functionalist Minimalism became popular as getting the best product to the most amount of people was the value proposition. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s that all changed. As the level of affluence rose, the desire for strict function fell. Now we see a return to minimalism based more on taste than functional need.

Culture and taste will quickly evolve as it always does.

Setting up shop in a new country always comes with surprises. Things are never quite the way the due diligence report claimed. So, success doesn’t always come to the those with the best plans, but to the ones able to understand and respond to surprises.

Few countries offer as many surprises as China. It delivers blistering growth while remaining true to itself. And it is this very tension that fuels the surprises we found when we moved to Shanghai a few years ago.

Many articles dissect the keys to successful operations and projecting future growth levers in China. But we’ve found that few discuss the very real challenges of being here on the ground: what it feels like, and what you don’t expect.

Here are the most important things we wished we’d known when we started.

Don’t be surprised when:

  1. You’re told your goal of 53% year on year growth is too conservative.
    The numbers flying around businesses in China are truly astounding. It’s the first thing you notice — that maybe the figures are off. Perhaps in extra zero was tacked on by mistake. Two thousand new stores to open in the next year? One hundred and fifty new employees every month? What’s crazier still is that you’ll start believing it’s possible. But don’t count on all that growth to come from your Tier 1 markets (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) or even the Tier 2 (provincial capitals). That’s already yesterday’s news. If you’re planning on investing and making a blip, you need a plan for at least your Tier 3, 4, and 5 cities — 350 markets. Most of which are as different from each other as Anchorage and Los Angeles, even if a similar size. Buy a map today and learn the nuances of Changshu vs. Changsha or Shenzhen vs. Shengzhou. Your 53% growth depends on it.

  2. You’re met with apathy from Chinese consumers for your Western brand.
    We have never been in a market showing as little desired influence from Wall Street or Hollywood, let alone London or Tokyo. This country has proudly looked inward for its inspiration and growth for so long that it doesn’t need to borrow ideals or fawn over actresses from afar. This is not to say the Chinese don’t love their Gossip Girl ring tones or their pirated Hollywood blockbusters or their NBA playoff madness. But it’s not North American or European brands that the Chinese are turning to invest in. It’s South American or African. Enter with humility. You will not be met with fawning embraces anymore just because you’re “Western.”

  3. You receive a resignation every week or two from someone on your team.
    Managing talent is the single most important, and exhausting, task there is. Given the size and effectiveness of state-owned enterprises, this market is not used to full-fledged entrepreneurship. Experienced knowledge workers are few and far between. But the urge and need and desire to be successful, and fast, is everywhere. So productively channeling this ambition, and coaching for long-term capability, is the key to success. But it’s difficult when turnover can approach 100% in a given year. And it’s the children of the 80s that you’ll likely be hiring and training. These products of the one-child policy have never known anything but full-blown economic optimism. In their personal lives, they’ve been the subject of doting attention of two parents and four grandparents. Constructive criticism and coaching is not without resistance. And yet, you’ll not find a more committed workforce, striving to better themselves, their families, and their country.

  4. Your innovative proprietary product with 40 patents and unique benefits is replicated in three months by a local company.
    Intellectual property is as foreign a concept to Chinese businesses and consumers as you’ll find here. No matter what it is — designer handbags, sports shoes, razors, or books — there is a cheaper or free version out there. Sounds obvious, but when you’re actually here, trying to manage a business by plugging the thousand leaks that is IP infringement, you’ll have no support or recourse from government or industry associations. It makes running a brand affected by these practices more than a line item about losses or diversion.

  5. You announce a confidential personnel move to two people and before you can walk back to your desk, the whole building knows the news.
    Think just because Facebook, YouTube and Twitter aren’t allowed that Chinese consumers aren’t connected? We’ll bet you they’re more connected by a factor of two to three. What they lack in these global social powerhouses, Chinese consumers more than make up for with renren and sina weibo and youku. If you’re thinking of having a productivity debate at your company about allowing Facebook during company time, I have an invite for you. The Chinese, especially the under 40, are connected 24-7 — in meetings, during dinner, during coffee dates, and often on multiple sites at the same time. Consumers are connected in a way the West has yet to see. If your firm is too timid to get onto these platforms it’s not just a case of not being present. It’s about not being relevant.

These are tips based on our own experiences with the unexpected twist and turns of doing business in China. If BMW Designworks does not hire some seasoned leaders with direct China experience they will be eaten alive here!

100% on target. Excellent post and observations. Thanks for that.

I don’t get it…
What’s the difference between Shanghai and Singapore?

+One is a part of China and the other is 85% of the Singapore population are descendants from China or expats from
+Both systems are “capitalist” with a “communist” ideology (1 party system)
+Both business strategy are somehow similar eg: “entertainment”
+Both local companies there have similar views and perception on “design”
+Both are somehow culturally similar except for the other 15% of the Singapore population

So, i don’t think there’s a difference between those 2 except that Shanghai has an advantage where they have a bigger market
All i can say is that BMW designworks moving to Shanghai is a good move.

Have you been there?

Shanghai is experiencing transformational dynamic change with a literally popping at the seams art scene, quickly expanding population, rapidly changing cityscape, and an evolving youth culture.

The culture between China and Singapore are pretty distinct as well. The similarities probably stop at the fact that they are both of Chinese appearance. As far as I perceive, Singapore has had a much larger penetration of Western culture… whereas Shanghai, and using Shanghai talent will probably now provide designs more appealing to the booming Chinese market.