Chery Automobile Co., the state-owned Chinese maker of the low-cost QQ mini car, hired Hakan Saracoglu from Porsche AG to head its design center in Shanghai in a bid to improve its styling.
Saracoglu, 47, joined Chery as design director in October, according to the Wuhu, Anhui province-based automaker. The Turkish-born German national worked for 15 years at Porsche, where he helped design the exteriors for models including the 918 Spyder, Boxster and Cayman.
Chery is the latest among Chinese automakers hiring foreign designers to help boost their brand image and reverse a loss in market share to overseas automakers such as General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. The hirings are part of a broader hunt for international talent, with salaries for foreign auto engineers in China reaching three times that in the U.S. and Europe, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
“Having somebody with a known profile gives you more credibility,” said Bill Russo, Beijing-based president of auto consultancy Synergistics Ltd. “But it’s going to take a long time to really embed those capabilities.”
Other Chinese companies have also looked abroad for help with styling. Beijing Automotive Group Co., which traces its roots to producing sidecar motorcycles for use in the Korean War, hired Ferrari Daytona designer Leonardo Fioravanti as chief design officer last year.
Great Wall Motor Co., China’s biggest maker of sport-utility vehicles, appointed former Mercedes-Benz designer Andreas Deufel as design director in 2011. Former Volvo Car chief designer Peter Horbury joined Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. the same year as senior vice president in charge of design.
Saracoglu, who said he had never visited China before being approached by Chery, started his career at Ford Motor Co.’s Cologne offices as part of the team on models such as the Focus and Mondeo. He received a degree in transportation design from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
In Shanghai, Saracoglu will lead a team of 30 to come up with new concepts for models from sedans to SUVs.
“Chery is not just QQ, we’re going to change that,” he said in a phone interview on Feb. 22. “The company is redefining itself. Chery’s standing for value, for design and gaining customer confidence. That’s where we want to go.”
Chery has a 50-50 joint venture to produce Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover in China. It also co-owns startup carmaker Qoros Auto Co. with Israel Corp.
Asked how much of a salary increase he was offered to leave Porsche, Saracoglu said, “I cannot comment on that. Let’s say I’m not unhappy.”
— With assistance by Alexandra Ho