Chinese automaker opens HQ in Birmingham

Posted on July 3, 2012

Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp., China’s largest automaker, plans to extend its relationships with U.S. suppliers and automakers through an office in Birmingham.

SAIC opened its North American headquarters under its North American subsidiary, Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp. USA Inc., on June 12.

SAIC USA’s North American Operations Center eventually will employ 100 people and focus on purchasing, logistics, technology and engineering, the company said in a statement.

It currently employs 50 finance, purchasing, engineering and design workers at the three-story building at 322 N. Old Woodward Ave. in downtown Birmingham, said Gary Neel, director of corporate marketing and public affairs. SAIC bought the building, but Neel declined to disclose the purchase price.

The office will coordinate procurement among 150 suppliers in North America and manage the import and export of components, the company said in a statement.

Neel said the new headquarters is important to establish the Chinese company as a global competitor.

“The way we look at it, there’s less of a U.S. car market or China market but an international auto market,” he said. “SAIC believes they have to be viewed as an international company, not just a China car company, and to be seen as a powerful international company to compete.”

Neel said SAIC picked the Birmingham location for the headquarters because of a “good deal” and called the city’s walkable atmosphere a strong recruiting tool.

“The idea is to find the best possible location at the best price, and Birmingham was certainly attractive in that regard,” he said. “It’s conducive to attract employees because of convenient parking, safety and its many shops and restaurants.”

According to real estate research company CoStar Group, the 42,000-square-foot building was last owned by Thomas Real Estate Development based in Grosse Pointe Park. The space SAIC is using was formerly leased by Lippitt O’Keefe PLLC, formerly known as Hyman Lippitt PC. Another tenant in the building is investment firm Leonard & Co.

The automaker has no immediate plans to launch a vehicle in the U.S., Neel said.

Mike Wall, director of automotive analysis for Northville-based IHS Automotive Inc., said housing engineering in the U.S. demonstrates SAIC’s commitment to become a world player in the market.

“The technology and engineering component to the operation speaks to the strength of Detroit, Michigan and North America in this area as well as SAIC’s own goals to further bolster their own expertise in this area,” Wall said in an email. “I think it makes a lot of sense given SAIC’s growth and evolution into a full scale global automaker.”

In 2011, SAIC’s global revenue rose 23.4 percent to 20.22 billion yuan (more than $3 billion).

SAIC sold more than 4 million vehicles in China last year and has paired with some of the biggest global makers.

SAIC has several joint ventures in China, including General Motors Co. as Shanghai General Motors Co.and SAIC-GM Wuling Automotive Co. It also has a joint venture with Volkswagen AG, Shanghai VW.

Earlier this month, Shanghai GM announced it was opening a $1.1 billion plant in Wuhan, China — its fourth plant in the country.

“I believe SAIC USA will continue to work as a bridge and link between SAIC Motor and the U.S. auto industry,” SAIC Corp. Chairman Hu Maoyuan said in a statement. “Further, we expect SAIC USA will continue healthy growth in this market, and this will be a new chapter of mutually beneficial cooperation for China and the U.S., with the support of both countries.”

By Dustin Walsh, Crain’s Detroit