Seven Essential Considerations For Your Vehicle Development Process
- Siegfried Krammer
- May 19, 2022
- 9-min read
By the time an automotive project enters the concept phase, the main outlines of the future vehicle development process and production quantities are determined: A new entrant should at this point have a clear idea of the features, functions, and components of their vehicle.
In this article you will find out the seven essential considerations for your vehicle development process and what to consider when planing it.
Investors for the project should be firmly on board and ideally, the new entrant has also secured the support of an experienced production partner. And most importantly, they should have secured a production site as well as a strategy to start its operation.
CHAPTER 1: THE ESSENTIALS OF EVERY AUTOMOTIVE DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
With all the preparatory work done, the concept phase begins. The vehicle itself will finally be outlined in full detail and developed, tested, and validated – component by component and on complete vehicle level.
However, a development strategy is necessary to ensure a seamless flow of operations.
The Basic Model of Automotive Development
Simply put, a vehicle project is based on a V-model with the product specification level serving as the x-axis and time as the y-axis. As the project progresses, requirements for the vehicle become increasingly more detailed, with the initial product vision being converted into specific targets for the complete vehicle, specific systems, and then the individual components.
This path is reversed for the testing and the validation phase: The individual validated components are integrated, first into systems and later into the complete vehicle, before it is then approved by the client. In other words, the automotive concept is first broken down into systems and components along the vehicle development process and then re-integrated into a complete vehicle.
The concept phase encompasses the upper left segment of the V-model. It starts with a finalized and technically validated business case. Complete vehicle targets are then derived based on the business case.
Once the product specifications book and the initial Bill of Material (BOM) have been approved, a target agreement (TA) can be formulated. The target agreement is the description of the entire product and its system-level components. The target agreement’s approval also marks the formal end of the concept phase, enabling development of the vehicle’s systems and components to begin.
How do we Ensure a Smooth Project Process?
Assume That Your BOM Needs Readjustments
The initial BOM is devised during the concept phase, and thus based on estimations. As the project progresses, the BOM will thus require adjustments to the initial estimates or the addition of parts missing in the original draft. Even minor alterations to the project can increase the size of the BOM drastically.
Keep Design and Engineering in Balance With Each Other
The main point of friction in vehicle development processes usually forms between the technical features of a vehicle and its design and styling concept. Technical requirements limit the creative freedom sometimes, whereas design choices demand compromises from the technical architecture. Close cooperation and mutual understanding between the technical teams and stylists helps find the best balance.
Execute Your Vehicle Testing Digitally
The benefits of virtual testing are clear. With virtual tools, a vehicle project can enter the testing phase earlier and with less time and costs attached. Testing can start almost immediately after the TA and reduces both time and dependency from suppliers, as there is no need to wait for commissioning, delivery, and assembly of components.
Inform Yourself About Relevant Quality and Security Standards
The vehicle industry consists of a myriad of different regulatory and quality standards for both production sites and the vehicles themselves. Depending on the region, not only do the certificates for quality and security differ, but also the way in which they are policed. To avoid last-minute changes, the regulatory framework of the automotive world should be considered as early as possible.
Make Sure That Your Schedule is Both Consistent and Flexible
Projects as large as vehicle development processes will naturally be subjected to numerous delays along the way, and there are many factors a manufacturer cannot control. Therefore, the most important quality of a schedule is not necessarily how well it can predict certain delays, but rather how it can be adapted to delays without major setbacks. Such adaptations also require quick decisions and sometimes even taking some risks.
CHAPTER 2: HOW TO DEFINE YOUR VEHICLE PERFORMANCE TARGETS
Before an automotive vision can be made reality, its individual systems and components must be defined. During the concept phase a vehicle idea is translated into a catalogue of specific metrics, targets, and traits.
Those key documents are the basis of the future vehicle.
The First Prerequisite: A Customer Market Profile
The first step of targeting is to create a customer market profile (CMP). The CMP is created during the feasibility phase and showcases the target market for the planned vehicle. It is important to determine what market segment the new entrant wants to enter.
Several questions need to be answered before creating a CMP:
- Who are the existing market competitors?
- What is the intended price for the vehicle?
- What is the planned production volume?
- What positioning strategy is used?
In addition to market-related factors, a CMP also needs the vehicle’s technical product portfolio. This portfolio includes features ranging from a vehicle’s platform dimensions and engine type to structurally important components of the vehicle.
What's More Important: The Product or the Market?
This raises an important question: Should a vehicle be adapted to fit its target market or vice versa? While key features of an automotive vision should not be changed to fit a market that it is not intended for, adapting the vehicle features to appeal to a larger market might be a good idea when done in time. However, the later a vehicle concept is adapted, the more time-consuming and costly any changes will be.
The Second Prerequisite: Creating Benchmarks
Benchmarking gives new entrants an overview of what their target market currently offers. Based on the CMP, other vehicles in the same market are compared to create a tangible goal that the new entrant must reach.
Deciding on the exact conceptual cornerstones is not as straightforward as one might assume. Until a key feature can be implemented, it needs to be broken down and analyzed over multiple specification cycles.
Defining the Top 100 Vehicle Targets
With the vehicle benchmarks chosen, the next step is to determine the specific vehicle targets as the first “tangible” features established during the development process. They help set specific goals a vehicle must meet. Performance on these targets is influenced by many individual factors – for example, the acoustics of a vehicle are affected by exterior noises or idling and rolling noises of the engine and tires, or stutters caused by the chassis, engine, or powertrain of the vehicle, along with other factors
A complete target list has several thousand targets (most of which are assigned to specific components), but only around 100 vehicle targets are decided upon initially. These initial targets consist of traits of the highest priority for the complete vehicle. Priority traits are then further categorized by how relevant they are to the benchmarks for the complete vehicle.
Defining targets consists of several testing rounds, executed by physical testing of benchmark vehicles and virtual simulations. The most important metrics are determined by the new entrant’s wishes, and they have top priority for the planned vehicle.
Challenges in Defining Targets
One of the most prominent challenges with defining targets is the interdependence of vehicle systems. Thus, even minor changes to one target can have great influence on the remaining vehicle development process. While many adaptations do not impact a vehicle so much that its entire structure needs to be re-planned, the target landscape is still constantly changing and highly dynamic.
CHAPTER 3: GET STARTED WITH VEHICLE SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT
The first 100 concrete vehicle targets are merely the starting point for the vehicle conceptualization. From here, the technical dimension of the project will grow exponentially – with each component bringing the project closer to the target agreement.
The System-Function Matrix
In addition to module-specific task forces, many vehicle manufacturers including Magna add an additional layer to the procedure: functional integration. This process is managed by Integrated Functional Teams. They serve as intermediaries between the individual module groups in charge of specific complete vehicle functions, such as weight or aerodynamics. This way, updates and changes in one system can always be implemented with the complete vehicle targets in mind. This network is overseen by a Complete Vehicle Coordinator. Keeping the individual module tasks and the overarching functional integration processes in balance with each other is necessary to create a useful target agreement.
The Road to the Target Agreement
Targets will be further extended and specified throughout the concept phase resulting in complete definition of the vehicle targets and the final and binding target agreement.
Specifying Material, the Schedule and Responsibilities
First, the requirement specifications for individual systems, aka the necessary tasks and resources, can be outlined. After that, the Bill of Materials (BOM) can be finalized, while scheduling plans for the entire project can be conceived. This also extends to defining the responsibilities of both individual internal teams and external partners involved in the project.
Assessing and Onboarding Suppliers
Key suppliers, and those providing long-lead time parts can then be determined and onboarded to ensure timely delivery of important parts as needed. The requirement specifications are formulated in specification booklets for individual suppliers.
Establishing the Basis for Serial Production
Lastly, serial production of the vehicle can also be planned. This process includes the evaluation of opportunities and risks as well as cost targets and finance planning before finalizing the formal contract for serial production. If a new entrant already cooperates with a partner for development and manufacturing, they will likely also extend this partnership to serial production as well.
CHAPTER 4: AUTOMOTIVE DESIGN & STYLING VERSUS TECHNICAL REALITIES
Whereas features and practicality make up the “core” components of the overall vehicle project, it is equally as important that the vehicle looks good, too! To create a positive first and lasting impression, the look and feel must connect with customers, investors, and the new entrant themself. The discipline encompassing the look and feel of an automotive vision is called design. Styling covers the visual and aesthetic aspects whereas design respects form and function.
An Introduction to Automotive Styling
The styling process itself starts and runs in tandem with the product vision phase. The vehicle’s styling can gradually be implemented at the beginning of the concept phase once the initial targets have been clearly defined.
From the first sketches on paper through to renderings on the computer, the level of detail in the design process increases gradually, from the overall proportions to the vehicle’s exterior and interior through to the tiniest details of the individual vehicle modules. Systematic, detailed solutions are essential to achieve a satisfying overall design experience.
The “end” of the general styling phase is reached at the milestone referred to as the “styling freeze.” At this point, only changes that are essential or that do not impact the design in any significant way should be made.
Design vs. Styling - What's the Difference?
Vehicle styling is often confused with vehicle design. In practice, vehicle design is an interdisciplinary term that overlaps with different aspects of the vehicle development process. The term “design” also covers engineering-related tasks, such as the vehicle’s construction. Styling, however, is largely limited to one part of the overall vehicle design process that is focused on aesthetics.
Thus, styling is the art of capturing the “spirit” of a vehicle from an aesthetic perspective.
The two things most associated with styling are the core elements of the vehicle’s design language: the interior and exterior surfaces as well as the overall look and feel.
Who is Responsible for Styling?
Established OEMs generally perform styling in-house, whereas new entrants often work with partners like design studios. If new entrants plan to set up an internal styling department from the get-go, they should hire people with skills in drafting, 3D modeling, surfacing, coloring, and UI/UX design. Along with that, they should have extensive project experience.
Styling Visions vs. Technical Realities
As important as vehicle styling is for buying decisions, it often conflicts with function. From the show car to the production vehicle, every vehicle will undergo major, far-reaching changes and often lose some of its original character to meet legal standards, manufacturing conventions, and technical requirements. On the other hand, vehicle stylists seek to stick as closely as possible to the key sketch. This means that engineers and stylists must discuss every inch of the vehicle to bring vision and reality together.
The Secret Ingredient is Systematic Decision-Making
The key to reaching a good balance and a convincing final vehicle is mutual understanding. Good styling teams have excellent knowledge of vehicle development and the requirements and challenges associated with it. On the other side, skilled vehicle developers have a keen eye – or at least an open ear – for design conventions and aesthetics. Ideally, there will be a studio engineer acting as a go-between between the styling and development teams.
CHAPTER 7: BUILD AN IT LANDSCAPE FOR YOUR AUTOMOTIVE STARTUP
Although not much in the spotlight, IT is one of the most important and most versatile tools a vehicle manufacturer has at their disposal, and when used smartly it will significantly increase its user’s performance in the market. IT cannot be viewed as a single unit of a given organization. It is a vital part of the entire project’s infrastructure and is a necessary and beneficial precondition for vehicle manufacturing in the 21st century.
How it Can Increase a Business's Market Success
IT encompasses far more than just saving paper. A well-developed and connected IT infrastructure optimizes communication and data transfers and increases an organization’s adaptability. It also reduces engineering and production costs of a vehicle as well as facility costs to a fraction of their non-digital counterparts. All of this can be accomplished while allowing for pinpointed accuracy in developing, simulating, and testing.
The Challenges of Establishing an Efficient IT Landscape
There are several different challenges that must be addressed before an IT landscape can be set up.
Planning Your IT System Layout
Automotive IT systems can be generally grouped into engineering or manufacturing systems on the top level. Each group, however, encompasses an enormous number of individual systems and processes. The best way to combat this large degree of complexity is good strategic planning. IT should not be viewed as a single task but rather a gradually developing subsystem of the business. IT processes will continuously be expanded, patched, and optimized in tandem with the business’s development.
Finding Software Solutions That Fit
Every facility has different requirements for its IT landscape. As there is no one-size-fits-all solution for an automotive IT, each business will require different software solutions depending on the vehicle properties in terms of features, size, design, variants, and production scope.
When deciding between buying and adapting existing software or developing own solutions, it makes sense to follow the principle of “buy-before-build.” Although developing individual system solutions is highly beneficial, and sometimes necessary for ensuring full function coverage, it is also a costly and time-consuming task. Unless developing an individual software solution does not provide a definitive benefit for the new entrant, it is always smarter to purchase existing software.
Connecting Individual Systems Into One Large Landscape
Integration is the key to every functioning IT landscape. Systems are chosen based on the requirements of their respective field of application but taken together must form one coherent system. IT has the gargantuan task of optimizing and connecting all these tasks into one greater system.
When systems are planned, there is one doctrine a new entrant should always follow: organize based on data. Regardless of their exact application, the best way to organize this kind of network is as follows. Keep data separated from its application but organize it around a centralized hub. Ideally, the numerous data flows are managed with one master data system that serves as the central focal point of the entire IT organizational landscape. Like a conductor directs a musical ensemble, a master data system directs data in a way that keeps things synchronized and running smoothly together as a whole.
Ensuring Data Security
An efficient IT landscape brings with it several potential security concerns. A lack of verifiable data security standards and measures is a major risk for all parties involved , regardless of whether data is stored on-premises, through a partner or via cloud-based services.
Fortunately, ensuring secure data storage and distribution networks can be accomplished according to clear criteria, as there are numerous regional guidelines in terms of privacy and security that software must fulfill. For example, Magna has the internationally valid ISO2700x certificate as well as TISAX, a certificate specifically required for German OEMs.
CONCLUSION: DEVELOPING A VEHICLE IS A MASSIVE TASK - LET'S GO STARTED RIGHT AWAY!
The challenges of bringing a vehicle to the road are considerable. But with lots of dedication, thorough preparation, and the right partner it can be done.
Magna Steyr can be your partner in realizing your automotive vision. Magna is an established name in the automotive world. We have a global presence, long-standing quality, and over a century of manufacturing experience. Our one-stop-shop service enables new entrants to realize their automotive vision from planning to production – all from the same source.
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Siegfried Krammer is Project Manager Engineering. He held several positions at Magna Steyr - his last one was Global Technical Area Head for Complete Vehicle Development.
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