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“Our electric drives are being developed in Austria and produced in China”

ORA R1 Great Wall Motors © Great Wall Motor

The Austrian citizen Markus Schermann can confidently be described as one of the country's pioneers in the field of electromobility. In the 1990s, at a time when Elon Musk was still focusing on Zip2 and PayPal, the qualified electrical engineer already specialised in electric drive systems. After spending some time at Siemens, Schermann founded his own company, which he later sold to the automobile component supply company Magna.

In 2017 supported by ABA - Invest in Austria, Schermann and his colleagues ultimately succeeded in convincing the Chinese automobile manufacturer Great Wall Motors (GWM) to open up a research and development centre in Kottingbrunn south of Vienna. On the basis of investments of EUR 20 million, the Austrian GWM subsidiary is now developing the entire electric drives for future e-powered vehicles in China.

GWM has already introduced two purely electric vehicles on the marketplace, namely the cute "ORA R1" and the SUV "ORA iQ". No technology "Made in Austria" has been integrated up until now into these vehicles. However, development work is currently being carried out in Austria on the electric drives for an e-powered pickup and a hybrid drive system.

Trending Topics: Great Wall Motor Austria Research & Development GmbH was launched in 2017. What objectives is the company pursuing?
Markus Schermann: Our GWM subsidiary in Austria is developing complete electric drive systems for automobiles. An electric drive consists of an electric motor, an inverter and a transmission. The inverter contains the power and control electronics. For its part, the control electronics encompass complex software which we are also developing. Our electric drives are being developed in Austria and produced in China. Up until now our Austrian facility has only served as an R&D location.

Great Wall is a large Chinese automobile manufacturer. Why would select Austria of all places as a business location?
Austria is located in the heart of Europe and has a long tradition as a country for automobile suppliers. For us it is easier than for our Chinese colleagues to get into contact with partner companies in Germany, Italy, Slovenia etc. and work together with them. We have very good engineers here and as a country we cultivate very good ties to China. Moreover, we have very high educational standards in Austria, and top universities and universities of applied sciences in our field in the immediate vicinity.

What is precisely being developed in Austria? Are the drive components for electric motors already being used in China? Is Europe also an interesting market for Great Wall?
As already mentioned, we are developing completing electric drive systems. We are developing the electronics, the circuits and the software, and we construct all mechanical components. This means that we have a rough description at the beginning of the product development process, and an entire power unit is the final result.

We also build the prototypes at our facility here in Austria, but as I said before, we do not manufacture any series components. The power units are produced in China and are primarily for use in China itself. Naturally the European market is interesting for GWM, but up until now no market development work has been done. [...] You find the full-length interview here.

> Tip: Read also the blog post about Austria as an automotive stronghold.

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