BMW Opens New Design Center In China: Is That A Good Thing?

Following on the heels of this week’s Beijing Auto Show, BMW has announced that it’s opening a new Designworks studio, with a Connected Drive Lab, in Shanghai’s upscale Huangpu District. The area is described as a commercial and financial center of one of the world’s fastest growing cities.

The Designworks studio joins BMW’s DesignworksUSA, which has served as a design hub for the BMW family of brands. It’s also provided its expertise in industrial design to such clients as the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, Embraer Legacy Jets and Sennheiser Earphones, to name just a few.

The Connected Drive Lab will share office space with the new Designworks studio, and its primary mission will be to further the development of ConnectedDrive functions relating to convenience, infotainment and safety. The lab will focus its development efforts on apps for the Chinese and Asian markets exclusively.

In the words of Laurenz Schaffer, president of BMW Group Designworks USA, “There’s tremendous insights for Designworks USA to gain in China... Creating this foothold for both BMW Group Design and Designworks USA in Shanghai is of great importance from both strategic and creative standpoints.”

We get it, to a certain degree: China is like the hot blond foreign exchange student with loose morals, while the automakers play the role of hormone-crazed teens. Each is falling over the other in order to get a date, or better yet land a more in-depth relationship.

Here’s what the automakers are forgetting: like the relationship with the exchange student, the growth in the Chinese market is likely temporary. Sure, it can leave you some great experiences and memories to recall in later years, but it seems a bit careless to put all your automotive eggs in the Chinese basket.

Maybe it’s sour grapes on our part, since no one seems to care about the U.S. or European markets these days, unless, of course, automakers are pitching cars to the uninterested and underemployed millennial buyer.

Here’s a reminder to automakers the world over: when the Chinese cool to your romantic advances, or when selling cars in China becomes cost-prohibitive thanks to ever-steepening tariffs, buyers in the U.S. and Europe will still be here. It’s probably not a good idea to forget about us completely.
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