Visitors to the recent Auto China in Beijing may have noticed an impressive new Chinese sports car - called Aculeus - on one of the smaller exhibitor stands. The concept car is the latest project undertaken by CH-Auto Technology Corporation - one of a growing number of automotive R&D service companies based in China that provides support to the OEMs.
The company was established in August 2003 by Lu Qun, an engineer who originally trained at Tsinghua University and later specialized in engine development testing. From 1990 to 2003, he worked for Beijing Jeep Automotive Co., finally becoming Manager of the Product Engineering Department. Since then, CH-Auto has grown to offer a full range of styling design, modeling, engineering and project management services, based at the new Beijing Airport Industrial Zone in the Shunyi District, north-east from Beijing's city center.
"In 2003, we decided over just a few days to establish ourselves here," explains Lu Qun, "and that decision has since proved very wise." Last year, in order to help alleviate the financing difficulties facing small and medium enterprises, Shunyi District offered assistance to companies and CH-Auto was one of the first of seven pilot enterprises to take up this offer. Lu Qun says he was deeply impressed: "It shows that the Government of Shunyi District has a forward-looking, long-term strategic vision. Not only to attract the projects, but concerning the entire lifecycle of the companies involved and to support their development to contribute to the local GDP growth."
Being close to the airport, the company's purpose-built technology center provides excellent access for design teams and engineers from other regions in China to visit their premises. The 30,000 square meter technology center is home to over 270 employees and houses all CH-Auto facilities under one roof, including the styling studio, design office, engineering research facility and customer review rooms. This brand new facility has the capacity for four vehicle development programs at any one time and can carry out 10-12 development projects every year.
The design department currently has 50 staff under the leadership of Design Director Shen Xiangchao. He is assisted by a team of senior designers including Chief Designers Wang Zheng, Disen Wang, Xue Yanfei, Song Hongyu, Funan Xu, and Chief Modeler Wang Chunyuan. The corresponding engineering department has more than 130 engineers, with Shiming Yan as Chief Engineer.
To date, CH-Auto has worked with companies such as Beijing Hyundai, FAW, SAIC, GAIG, Chery, Geely, JMC, JAC, Changfeng and Tianjin Motor, and has accomplished more than 40 complete and local modification projects. Engineers strictly follow the PAP quality assurance system and can provide services for the customers from product positioning, concept design, styling design, platform development, engineering design, CAE analysis, prototype build, supplier management and launch support - indeed a complete ‘turnkey' development operation.
So how does CH-Auto believe it differs from other turnkey operations? Showing the Aculeus full-size prototype is one example. "We wanted to use the Aculeus not only to showcase our talents but to develop it as a full production car to be made in limited volume for sale in China," explains Disen ‘Eddie' Wang, Chief Designer of the concept studio. First shown two years ago, the car has been further developed as a "Chinese Ferrari" and now uses a BMW 4.8 litre V8 engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, housed in a spaceframe chassis.
The company also used the opportunity of Auto China in Beijing to exhibit other new concepts that it has been working on alongside the prototype Aculeus. These concepts, displayed as ¼ scale resin models, were entitled ‘Auspicious', ‘E-trip', ‘Ming' and ‘Sino-Nest' and aimed to exhibit the national characteristics and cultural trends of future Chinese car design. Among them, the unique design of the ‘Ming' concept car particularly attracted visitors' attention. The asymmetric body, finished in black and white, uses simple geometric symbols to give a different feeling to both sides of the car, where one side is mysterious and has a sense of speed while the other expresses harmony and sunshine.
Reflecting on the future of CH-Auto, Lu Qun remains very positive. "China is now the biggest automobile producer in the world, yet the domestic brands still gravitate around low to mid-range products," he explains. "One of the key missions of the Chinese car producers is to shift the tag of ‘Made in China' to ‘Designed in China' and CH-Auto and related automobile engineering companies have a large part to play here. Automobile engineering and technology is the key to producing the high value-added products required to achieve this."