Stellantis hires €50,000 engineers in India, Brazil to save

PHOTO X @Stellantis

Stellantis NV has moved to recruiting a majority of its engineering workforce in countries like Morocco, India and Brazil, as carmakers contend with lower-cost competition and slowing demand.

The maker of Jeep SUVs, Opel Corsas and Chrysler minivans is hiring engineers where the cost per employee amounts to roughly €50,000 ($53,000) or less per year, according to people familiar with the matter. The cost of labor in hubs like Paris and Detroit can be as much as five times that amount.

Western carmakers are feeling the strain from slowing EV demand while they fight to build more affordable vehicles. Manufacturers including Tesla Inc. and Volkswagen AG are cutting jobs and moving some production to cheaper venues. While the pressure is greatest among mass-market brands, premium automakers like BMW AG also are adding white-collar jobs in India and elsewhere to tap local talent.

Stellantis is currently among the more aggressive and now aims to have roughly two-thirds of the company’s engineers in lower-cost countries over the longer term, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The driver behind Stellantis’ cuts are vehicles including the €23,300 electric Citroen ë-C3 that’s set to start deliveries during the second quarter. Making affordable vehicles means the company must seek more savings with Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares issuing a stark warning in January on “disregarding the reality of your cost situation.” In total, Stellantis is introducing 25 new models this year.

Following this week’s first-quarter revenue presentation, Stellantis shares slumped 10.5%, their biggest drop in four years, after Chief Financial Officer Natalie Knight said returns in Europe are suffering from declining demand.

“There is always more potential when it comes to cost discipline,” Knight said. “We’re going to continue to optimize our labor costs – this is something that has been important both on the white-collar and, to a lesser extent, on the blue-collar side.”

Adding Expertise

The annual compensation of engineers in the US or France tends to be in the range of $150,000 to $200,000, including benefits, several people said. Engineers in countries such as Mexico, Brazil or India can cost as little as 20% or 30% of that, they said. In addition to seeking savings, Stellantis is looking to add expertise in areas such as software, artificial intelligence and battery-cell chemistries, a spokesperson said.

The industry is a global playing field in “deep transformation with new Chinese players arising,” the spokesperson said.

At its US headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Stellantis last month cut about 400 salaried engineering jobs, including people working on vehicle calibration and electronics and controls. The company is meanwhile seeking to hire electronics engineers to work in Mexico.

Stellantis also plans to hire about 500 engineers to add to the almost 4,000 it already has in Brazil, South America Chief Operating Officer Emanuele Cappellano said in an interview. The engineers, many of whom are based in Betim, focus on global projects, he said.

The push has in some instances caused problems during development, for example in the steering system of the “Smart Car” platform originally developed by India’s Tata Consulting Services, according to the people. Dozens of French and Italian engineers had to be flown in to work on fixes, the people said.

A lack of engineering resources also is creating production launch problems at the company’s truck plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, according to Mike Spencer, president of United Auto Workers Local 1700. More cuts are planned in the coming months.

Stellantis is joined by competitors including Renault SA in looking for engineering and software talent in emerging markets. Its archrival eliminated some 1,500 engineering positions in France in recent years and has been building out hubs in Romania, Brazil and South Korea. Renault CEO Luca de Meo praised India’s “high level of competence” in areas such as cloud engineering, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving during a recent press event.

The moves are fueling political tensions. Stellantis is under growing pressure in Italy, where the government is pushing back on plans to eliminate thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, his workers in Italy and France have complained that Tavares’ cost-cutting measures have led to an increased work load, unsanitary conditions in certain plants, a lack of work gear and insufficient heating.

Several proxy advisers criticized Tavares receiving a €36.5 million compensation package – the highest among CEOs of traditional manufacturers – while preaching frugality to the Stellantis workforce amid plans to eliminate thousands of additional jobs. Glass Lewis warned of potential “reputational risk” to the company over the difference between top management compensation and pressure on the rest of the staff.



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