How Geely’s anonymous looking new studio is seriously upping capability and attracting talent

Geely Design moved its main China facility into an anonymous looking site near Shanghai South Station in June. Coming from a cramped previous facility, which housed design studios from other manufacturers in different parts of the building, having their own space is a whole new world.

“With the previous place, we didn’t sign anything to say we wanted a sign on the outside and we didn’t know Chery was signing a deal. They already knew we were in and so they put in a clause that they were the only ones allowed to put signs on the outside. That’s why we deliberately put a massive Geely Design sticker on the inside right next to the café to remind the Chery people having their coffee that we were there,” said Guy Burgoyne, the Shanghai Studio Chief.

Guy Burgoyne

Guy Burgoyne, Geely’s Shanghai design chief

This time the lack of a sign is most certainly deliberate rather than an oversight. “We are not a supermarket, we’re not trying to attract customers to come and visit here. This is our place. When you’re in your home you want everybody to be proud of it, but we don’t need to put a massive sign saying we live here, partly because we don’t really want to attract people to be looking over the fence,” continued Burgoyne.

Home to 350 employees, along with at any time 50 to 100 contractors undertaking functions such as clay and digital modelling, the site consists of three main buildings. Formerly a printing factory, in China’s ongoing efforts to reduce pollution and switch to higher tech industries, it closed and was repurposed by Geely. Engineers and admin are housed in the smallest building. The B building (see top photo) houses interior design, plus offices and meeting rooms. Finally, there is the C building, home to exteriors.

It was this building that posed the greatest challenge. There was about a year between first viewing of the site and finally moving in. At first the building had pillars all the way through and a double roof. To create an open workspace suitable for clay model milling, three sides of the building and the roof had to be changed.

In between the two main buildings is the outdoor viewing area, a facility that Geely’s old studio didn’t have and required use of another location. “Before it was a day and a half event. We had to pack up the models here, take them on transporters to there, take everyone there to look at them. It certainly wasn’t a daily occurrence; now we can bring them out as many times as we like,” said Burgoyne about how they had to previously take models to Geely’s Hangzhou Bay facility. The plates, as with a lot of the other equipment, comes from the previous studio.

An added advantage with the viewing area is that the previous model or a competitor can be parked there and people working on the exteriors can look at it while working. The design studio has production versions of every Geely model. Buttresses on the structure help stop people in overlooking buildings from seeing into the full-height windows.

Parked inside the studio, along with the Preface concept from this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, was a Geometry A. Already the team is hard at work on an update for the car, but Geometry will also be a range of cars. “We see it as an overlap with Geely Auto and will do anything new and which makes sense from an electric platform point of view, in a way that makes it suitable for Geometry. There will be areas where we carry over parts from both brands, but those will be the more anonymous parts,” said Burgoyne. The grille, for example – although obviously Geely has its own look to it.

One of the biggest changes is the amount of space. The previous studio was rather cramped and there were two satellite studios. With the new site things can be far more concentrated, and only one of the satellites still remains. The exteriors building fits in a six-metre display screen for viewing, whereas interiors has a five-metre unit. Upstairs in building B is a large space allowing designers to curate presentations. Continuing on a theme from the old premises, all the meeting rooms get names taken from Journey to the West – a Chinese classic which tells a fictionalised account of the adventures of Buddhist monk Xuan Zang and his journey to India to collect Buddhist scriptures. Quite apt for a company that is keen to take its cars to the world.

Geely Preface concept at the Shanghai auto show

Burgoyne believes that Geely’s new studio is the largest such facility on the Puxi side within the inner ring road – and in the war for talent, that is a big plus. Geely provides company buses to ferry workers to and from various parts of Shanghai, but more importantly for many, there is a metro station a few minutes away. “We are acutely aware of the war for talent and we need to be an attractive employer. Part of that is the location and part of it our attitude,” said Burgoyne, before going on to say he is keen to get potential employees to visit the site.

Many brands have small design operations in the city centre. There are at least three in the W Hotel, but Burgoyne said they are offices really rather than studios. “They are lovely, and a way of being in downtown Shanghai next to the Blade Runner views, but when it comes to actually working, I can promise you that being next to a full scale model and being able to see it outside beats having a view. Anyway, we can go and see that view in the evening.”