Germany-based  automotive supplier Continental yesterday broke ground for a seven-storey wing at its research and development centre, which was itself completed just a year ago.

The extension, which Continental Automotive Singapore managing director Lo Kien Foh expects to be ready next year, is slated to accommodate around 450 employees, and will add 5,000 square metres of floor space to the 10,170 sq m R&D facility.

Total capital investment comes to 17.5 million euros (S$29.7 million).

This, said Mr Lo, is in line with the company's plans to double its workforce in Singapore from some 650 last July to more than 1,300 within the next four to five years. He said that the company also plans to raise Asia's share of corporate sales to more than 30 per cent over the next few years.

Continental reported 32.7 billion euros in global sales for 2012, out of which sales in Asia accounted for some six billion euros, or 18 per cent.

The R&D complex in Singapore, on Boon Keng Road, is one of Continental's three global R&D centres for its interior division, which focuses on the design of interior automobile features.

According to Mr Lo, a research priority for the Singapore centre is the development of in-car information management systems.

He said that more than 70 per cent of Continental's Singapore-based employees work in engineering and design.

"Our commitment is to recruit more local talent, and develop local expertise in collaboration with our international teams, and our partners in Singapore."

Singapore is an attractive site for an R&D centre, he said, because "it has got the expertise, has got the talent".

"Singapore will be a location that we can grow with the number of resources, the amount of competence, that we have."

Echoing this point on the training and retention of talent, Lim Kok Kiang, executive director of transport engineering at the Economic Development Board, mentioned relevant specialised engineering programmes at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, as well as related courses at local polytechnics.

"I trust that as Continental continues to grow in scale and scope, it will create even more exciting career opportunities for the people of Singapore."