Fisher & Paykel Appliances, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese home goods giant Haier last year, is looking to expand its New Zealand-based research and development capabilities through taking on 100 new R&D staff in Dunedin and Auckland over the next two years.
Chief executive Stuart Broadhurst, who has just returned from a visit to Haier's headquarters in China, says the expanded team would develop products and technology for both the Kiwi firm and its Chinese parent company.
Haier acquired F&P Appliances late last year mainly to secure its unique technology such as DishDrawer dishwashers and direct drive washing machine motors, as well as the R&D expertise it has honed over almost 80 years in the whiteware business.
"We will be developing technology and new products for the Fisher & Paykel brand and we'll be a design and innovation centre for the wider Haier Group," Broadhurst said yesterday.
He would not reveal how many R&D staff F&P Appliances currently has, saying that information was commercially sensitive, but it was reported last year that the company employed 150 product development workers in Dunedin.
Broadhurst said F&P Appliances was focused on becoming Haier's global premium brand.
"We have, in recent years, been focused on ensuring that Australia, the USA and New Zealand were doing as well as they possibly could," he said. "We really need to move faster now to build on the steps we've made in China and India and other growth markets and start to move outside of Australia, New Zealand and the USA quicker to create this global premium brand."
Broadhurst said the company was about to release the largest number of new appliances it had ever released at any one time, including cooktops, fridges and laundry products.
But while things are looking up for the R&D team, the company's remaining New Zealand-based manufacturing workers are facing a less certain future.
Broadhurst said the company's manufacturing operations remained "under review".
"We know that our customers want to make sure they get value for money so we've got to make sure we can deliver value for money," he said.
"When we've completed a review on what might happen in New Zealand [manufacturing] then we'll make a decision."
F&P Appliances has axed hundreds of production-line jobs in Auckland and Dunedin in recent years as it shifted manufacturing to lower-cost factories in Thailand and Mexico. The company retained a plant in Auckland, where 29 staff were laid off last year.
Asked if he thought the company would still be manufacturing in New Zealand in a decade, he said that was a question he could not answer.
Haier, which owned 20 per cent of F&P Appliances before the takeover, won the right to fully acquire the East Tamaki-based company in November when more than 90 per cent of the Kiwi firm's shareholders accepted its offer of $1.28 a share.