Competition in the global auto industry has never been more fierce, yet the challenges manufacturers face are likely only to get more intense as new technologies – such as autonomous driving and electrified powertrains – as well as new players reshape the landscape.
That is leading to a game of musical chairs as carmakers raid one another at an accelerating pace hunting for key talent. In many cases, it’s new entrants into the market that are leading the hunt. But established manufacturers are also becoming bolder in their bid to lure top talent to their side.
Among the most notable moves in recent weeks, Tesla Motors has hired Peter Hochholdinger to become its new vice president of vehicle production. Hochholdinger previously spent 22 years as a senior manufacturing executive at German luxury brand Audi.
“Tesla is excited to have Peter join the team,” Tesla gushed in a corporate statement.
The former Audi exec’s move to Palo Alto, California, comes at a critical time for Tesla. The battery-car manufacturer has been struggling to fix ongoing quality and reliability issues that have generated intense criticism from sources such as the influential Consumer Reports magazine. But the bigger challenge comes as Tesla prepares for the launch of the Model 3, the brand’s first mainstream electric vehicle.
Earlier this month, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed plans to boost the company’s production to 500,000 units annually by 2018, several years ahead of its earlier target. The big challenge, cautioned analyst David Sullivan, of AutoPacific, Inc., will be bringing quality in line with a more mainstream audience likely less willing to accept quality problems than the early adapters who have purchased the Tesla Model S and X battery-cars.
Tesla is pushing out two other executives, who some blame for the company’s manufacturing problems.
(Why is Tesla’s Elon Musk sleeping on the shop floor? Click Here to find out.)
Tesla has been especially aggressive at hunting top talent at established auto brands. That includes Franz von Holzhausen, the former General Motors and Mazda designer who now runs its styling operations.
But Tesla itself has been experiencing something of its own revolving door. It recently lost several key members of its product development team, including Nick Sampson, who oversaw work on the Model S and Model X battery cars before jumping ship. Sampson is among the top officials at the new Faraday Future, another California-based battery-car start-up.
Tesla has also faced poaching raids led by Apple. Though the consumer electronics firm has remained silent on its plans, it is believed to be working on its own battery-car program, something reportedly codenamed Project Titan.
Apple has brought in a number of automotive veterans of late, including Chris Porritt, a one-time Aston Martin designer, who had been more recently working at Tesla on the development both the Models S and X, as well as the upcoming Model 3 battery-electric sedan. According reports in several Silicon Valley publications, Porritt will now serve at Apple as Special Projects Group PD Administrator.
(Tesla, BMW lose key battery-car talent. For more, Click Here.)
Porritt, however, isn’t the only battery-car executive jumping ship. German automaker BMW has reportedly lost a number of key members from the team that developed it i3 and i8 electric vehicles. The group, which includes Carsten Breitfeld, leader of the team behind the i8 plug-in sports car, will now work on EV development for the Chinese-funded start-up Future Mobility Corp.
He’ll be joined by Dirk Abendroth, a senior powertrain specialist, and Henrik Wenders, who oversaw product management for BMW’s electric sub-brand.
Start-ups aren’t the only ones on the prowl. Hyundai Motor Co, last year stole Luc Donckerwolke away from Bentley. The Peruvian-born designer is expected to succeed Hyundai’s current styling chief Peter Schreyer when he retires in several year.
Now, according to a report by the Reuter’s news service, Hyundai has lured away another senior Bentley designer, Sangyup Lee. It will be something of a homecoming for that Korean stylist who will now oversee work on Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury car brand.
(Click Here to see more about Tesla’s quality woes.)
Hoping to draw the best and brightest talent in engineering, design and manufacturing, automakers are dangling ever-larger salaries and more compelling perks and benefits to nab new talent. The latest series of raids are likely only the beginning, according to industry observers.