BEIJING – Aptiv, the former Delphi Automotive, has spent decades investing in its China operations, including manufacturing plants and R&D centers. In the process, it has trained thousands of local engineers.

“Compared to our competitors, we have been building and investing in our capability,” Simon Yang, president-Aptiv Asia Pacific, tells WardsAuto. “We believe from a local capability standpoint, we are leading.”

That claim might be difficult to measure precisely, but two things are certain: Aptiv has a substantial footprint in China, and the China market is huge. The strategy of local investment is paying off in the race to develop electric-vehicle and connected-car technology for the global market. It also is adding to Aptiv’s bottom line.

“Now, with the (China) market size, you see more of the global technology is initiated here,” Yang says ahead of the first press day at Auto China 2018.

He cites a 480V charging cable developed in China as an example. Aptiv now sells a version of it globally. “It is pretty high tech,” Yang says. “With that kind of voltage, you can fry something pretty quickly.”

Aptiv was created when supplier giant Delphi Automotive in late 2017 spun off its powertrain and aftermarket divisions into a separate company. The remaining assets, which included electrical architectures, electronics and safety, became Aptiv. It is a massive company, with global revenue of $12.9 billion in 2017. Asia Pacific accounted for 28% of that. Aptiv does not disclose separate country figures.

Aptiv’s focus is in three areas, says Yang, who previously was managing director-Delphi connection systems/Delphi electric centers Asia. “We believe the world is going to be green, connected and safe.”

The market in China related to all those areas is huge.

China is the world’s largest EV market, with some 770,000 units sold in 2017, a 53% increase over 2016, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. It also is the largest passenger-vehicle market globally, with sales of 28.9 million units in 2017.

Aptiv’s customers in China, which include all the major domestic automakers as well as foreign-brand manufacturers, must go “green” – i.e., electrify – because the Chinese government has mandated it.

Safety is tops on the minds of many Chinese drivers. The China market for advanced driver-assistance systems is expected to show a compounded annual growth rate of 34.6% between 2017 and 2021, according to a report by Research and Markets.

A January survey by Kanter TNS Auto found 79% of Chinese consumers planned to buy a connected car in the future. “The young Chinese are more interested in getting that fancy (connected-car) stuff in the car than mature markets,” Yang says.

Aptiv has 18 manufacturing sites in China and is building more. In April 2017, Aptiv began expanding manufacturing capacity 30% at an advanced-safety-systems and user-experience plant in Suzhou. A new electrical-distribution-system plant near Shanghai comes on line in the second half of this year.

The supplier’s three R&D centers in China employ some 3,000 engineers.

When the first of those R&D centers opened, much of the technical knowledge flowed from west to east. The flow now is bi-directional, Yang says.

Working in China with Chinese engineers has sped up Aptiv’s pace of development, he says.

Two decades ago Chinese customers were asking for technology to be developed in one year, but validation would take four years, Yang says. So, the Chinese customers would take a risk doing business with a local competitor who would promise to do it in one year.

Global companies had to adapt without lowering their safety standards, and they did. Local capacity was crucial to achieving that goal. Now, Yang says, “We are able to do what used to take four years in one or two years.”

Though there are local competitors, Aptiv’s size gives it an advantage, the executive says.

It invested 8% of its total revenue in R&D in 2017. Given that the company made nearly $13 billion, that’s a big budget.

“Think about how much money we can put into engineering,” Yang says.