A company with a global workforce of 120,000 that sold 2.1 million vehicles last year, and that has five development centers in China, Sweden, the United Kingdom – and now Hessen. Who are we talking about? Chinese automaking group Geely. The company opened its new Lotus Tech Innovation Centre in Raunheim in Hessen. We met up with Geely’s Frank Klaas (Vice President Communications Europe), Meng Zhu (PR Specialist), and Stefan Kammerer (Business Project Manager) to talk about the place where the new Lotus sports car will be developed. The discussion was full of superlatives, touching on Germany’s largest Chinese community, the most expensive potholes in Hessen, and the region’s largest EV charging park.
Geely made the headlines this year when it was announced that you were opening the Lotus Tech Innovation Centre in Hessen. What led to the move and what exactly is this?
Zhu: Geely became the majority shareholder in Lotus in 2017 and we inaugurated our Lotus Tech Innovation Centre (LTIC) in Raunheim a few weeks ago. This is part of our global R&D network and the successor to the Geely Auto Technical Centre that opened in Raunheim more than two years ago. Here in Hessen we are working on new drive concepts and environmentally friendly mobility. Our goal is to develop future-facing cars under the Lotus brand, and to focus on electromobility.
Kammerer: Our developers use PCs for their work, which is why we, our engineers and business administration staff have moved into an office building: the six floors offer us space for 250–300 people. We are particularly delighted that it is an environmentally friendly building fitted with self-regulating HVAC systems, and that it uses green electricity throughout. What is more, we are currently working on an electric vehicle charging infrastructure for our premises. We want to install one of the largest – if not the largest – EV charging parks in the region. We are planning roughly 40 charging stations offering 22 kilowatts of AC power each, possibly supplemented by 4 superchargers with a capacity of 50 kilowatts of DC power. All staff will be able to use the charging park once it has been installed.
What were the decisive arguments in favor of Raunheim as a location?
Klaas: Raunheim in Hessen ideally meets our needs as a global automotive industry player. The engineering expertise provided by small and medium-sized companies is one of the factors driving development in the sector. And this is precisely what Germany offers: it is home to the leading centers of excellence that are developing the technologies of the future. Hubs that are taking technology forward and shaping tomorrow’s automotive sector. And wherever in Germany these experts are located, Hessen is always right in the middle. This is why Raunheim gives us a real location advantage. What is more, the highway network and the airport nearby offer excellent transportation links. This is ideal for us, because we depend on dialog. For example, when colleagues from China visit they can come and say hello to us straight after landing. That's really convenient and absolutely excellent from a logistics perspective. In a nutshell, it keeps distances short for us as a global company. And it’s only 40 kilometers to Hessen’s most expensive potholes. That’s not far.
Hessen’s most expensive potholes?
Klaas: That's right. They’re in Dudenhofen in south Hessen. There’s a test track there that can be used for testing and enhancing vehicle quality. Why are the potholes there the most expensive in the state? Because they have to conform to the same standard all the time, which means they have to be specially prepared. We like to test our electric cars there: How do they brake? How does the braking distance change when the track is slippery? Or when the battery is low? We are making excellent progress here and are delighted that the test track is so near to us. In our opinion, these short distances are typical of Hessen.
Zhu: We are really extremely proud of this location. Hessen is extremely international and it's also home to Germany’s largest Chinese community, with over 15,000 people. I myself come from a city in China with 10 million people and have lived here in Hessen for the last two years. Everyone here is very friendly and curious, and I was able to get to know people quickly. And there are staff from 15 countries working at our Raunheim location.
Establishing and expanding operations abroad is always a long process, and you never have a situation in which everything goes according to plan. What was it like in Hessen?
Klaas: There’s an initiative here that goes by the name of “Drei gewinnt,” or “Three wins” in English. The three towns located between Frankfurt Airport and the city itself – Raunheim, Kelsterbach, and Rüsselsheim – have joined forces to attract companies to the area. We were in close contact with the municipal authorities in Raunheim as part of this initiative and I can tell you that our dealings with both them and the Hessen state government have been and continue to be excellent. This applies both in general and when we have concrete questions. We have always been able to count on rapid, unbureaucratic assistance.
That's very good to hear. Can you give an example?
Klaas: Of course. One really good example is the EV charging infrastructure at our company’s premises. We can’t do this alone and need someone to help us here. But it isn’t a long drawn-out bureaucratic process: they just do it. And as our workforce increased and we needed more parking spaces, we simply made two calls to the municipality and one week later a brownfield site had been designated for this. In Raunheim, they understand problems and find solutions. They get involved and get things done quickly, which is just great. In my opinion this goes to show just how much is possible in Hessen. And that's why this location deserves to be praised.
I love the Taunus! For someone who grew up in China it's difficult to imagine that there’s so much nature on the doorstep of a big city such as Frankfurt and that everything is so idyllic. I simply feel very happy here.
What is Geely planning for the future in Hessen?
Klaas: We’re no nine-day wonder. On the contrary: we will be expanding this location going forward to handle additional Group projects. That's why we’ve taken out a 12-year lease on our new building. At the moment we are focusing on e-mobility. We can create another 50 jobs in this area this year alone. Nevertheless, Geely is open to other technologies, which is why we’re also thinking about alternative forms of mobility development such as carbon-neutral fuels.
That sounds exciting. What e-mobility challenges will you have to face in the future?
Klaas: At present Lotus is known for its light, extremely high-powered sports cars. In Raunheim, we’re asking ourselves how a light car can remain powerful if it has to drag a heavy battery around. Our developers are tackling this problem and taking a very detailed look at the vehicles’ chassis, brakes, and battery issues. These different projects are leading to the creation of a global network. This also reflects our philosophy of integrating expertise.
One last question: where and how do you spend your free time outside work?
Kammerer: Doing sport and spending time at home with good friends and good food.
Klaas: I come from northern Hessen and have lived in a number of places including Munich and London, but Frankfurt has now become my home. I enjoy going out in the city in the evening with my wife or my friends. And if the weather is good I like tinkering around with my antique car, which I use for historic rallies from time to time. I’ve even driven as far as Rome in it.
Zhu: I love the Taunus! For someone who grew up in China it's difficult to imagine that there’s so much nature on the doorstep of a big city such as Frankfurt and that everything is so idyllic. I simply feel very happy here.
Thank you very much for these interesting insights!
By Daria Dietz