World and Nation

General Motors to Build Hybrid Research Facility in Shanghai

GM announced Monday that it would build an advanced research center in Shanghai to develop hybrid technology and other advanced designs, in the latest research investment in China by a foreign automaker despite chronic problems with purloined car designs.

GM already has a 1,300-employee research center in Shanghai with its main Chinese joint venture, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.. The separate, wholly owned research center announced Monday for the most advanced vehicle engineering and development could help GM keep greater control over new technologies than conducting the research through the joint venture.

Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman and chief executive, said that it was essential to do advanced research in China so as to adapt technologies quickly to locally sold models. GM’s sales in China have grown to an estimated 1 million this year from 20,000 in 1999, making it the company’s second-largest market after the United States.

Wagoner insisted that GM could keep control of intellectual property in China even while doing cutting-edge research here. “We think it’s a prudent tradeoff and we think the risk is manageable,” he said.

Chen Hong, a top SAIC executive, said nothing on the new GM project but welcomed a separate plan on Monday for GM and SAIC to provide a $5 million grant jointly over five years for a much smaller research venture at Tsinghua University in Beijing. That project that will give GM closer access to government officials here

Chinese automakers have repeatedly triggered confrontations with Western automakers by introducing vehicles that appear identical to Western models, but there has not yet been a case of a Chinese automaker copying advanced Western engine technology.

GM’s largest hybrid car research efforts will remain in the United States, but research will also be done collaboratively in China and information will be shared with China from GM’s partnerships with universities around the world, Wagoner said, adding that, “For us, it’s not a question of either/or.”

Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and other foreign automakers have all announced their own research centers in China in recent months, although no one has been as aggressive as GM in transferring technology to China.