The Impact of Vehicle Electrification and Connectivity on Electrical System Design
Industry in Flux
Just over 100 years ago, Henry Ford disrupted the auto industry of the time with the introduction of the mass-production moving assembly line. To say that the auto industry is again in flux is almost cliché.
The confluence of technology and business trends in play is having a profound effect on the future of the mobility industry.
Electric propulsion is still in its infancy. Today, less than 5% of vehicles sold in the US use electric propulsion. But consumers recognize the impact of EVs on the environmental. With the introduction of EVs with greater travel range and more affordable purchase price, adoption will accelerate. A survey from AAA shows that 20% of drivers want an electric vehicle and will likely choose an EV for their next vehicle, up from 15% percent in 2017.
The race to achieve fully automated driving is heating up rapidly. Despite many uncertainties concerning technology maturity, regulatory requirements, and market adoption, practically all automakers and major suppliers, as well as scores of small upstart companies, want to take part in this race.
The hope to capitalize on the early waves of commercialization and consumer adoption, and the accompanying boost to the brand lead to an increase of 33% over 5 years in R&D in the automotive sector.
Today’s consumers demand connectivity, sophisticated mobile apps and rich online content. An Autotrader study shows that connectivity has become a major factor in car buying decision, and that 48% of car buyers prioritize in-vehicle technology over brand or body style.
OEMs are now shifting in this direction, adding connectivity and in-vehicle features across their portfolio, including non-premium brands in an effort to better align their offering with the changing market demand, especially of millennial consumers.
Globalization and Personalization
In-vehicle software-defined systems allow automakers to offer a wide range of features to better meet market demand and cater to the ever-changing tastes and whims of customers across different geographies and age groups, and help create and bolster brand differentiation.
Electronics and software are the defining technologies that are shaping the competitive battlegrounds of the future.
A Century-Old Status Quo is Challenged
We are in the beginning of a radical mobility revolution that will continue for decades. We are going at a breakneck speed on a road awash with uncertainties and unknowns. Winners are those that innovate and adapt quickly.
Software-based functionality and low-cost off-the-shelf sensor electronic lower the barrier to entry, creating opportunities for new entrants, that move the competitive battlefield to grounds unfamiliar to traditional automakers, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
These new entrants are driving innovation and are challenging traditional OEMs and suppliers. According to McKinsey, the more than half of these companies are in the San Francisco Bay Area and not in Detroit. As interestingly, the report ranks Israel and Singapore—two countries that do not have indigenous car manufacturing—third and fourth (after the US and China) in terms of the number of mobility technology companies and disclosed investments.
Suppliers Are No Longer Just Suppliers
The increased role of electronic and software functionality in cars allows automotive suppliers—both traditional and outsiders—to move up the value chain.
Once indistinguishable in a pool of dozens of similar companies in the supply chain, even small suppliers now provide critical electronic subsystems and embedded control software. They are changing the rules of the game and threatening the status quo, causing disintermediation and changing the traditional value chain structure.
Complexity Outpacing Capabilities
Modern vehicle control systems are no longer just a small number of loosely-coupled mechanical and electrical subsystems with simple interfaces that dominated vehicle design through most of the last century. Today, these are large-scale software-controlled concurrent and distributed systems with complex system interactions that are difficult to design, simulate and test thoroughly.
Decades-old product engineering tools and methods, supplemented by ad hoc use of informal tools such as spreadsheets and lengthy email threads are no longer able to handle the complexities involved in developing complex vehicle systems that involve multiple engineering disciplines: mechanical, electrical and software, each developed utilizing a distinct development methodology, tools, and practices.
Change is Inevitable
From innovation in propulsion and control technologies developed by aggressive outsiders to changing consumer preferences and proliferation of mobility services that threaten to hurt car sales, automakers are no longer in full control of their destiny.
The impact of the change is overwhelming and the cumulative long-term effects of rapid technology innovation, disruptive business models, and evolving supply chain ecosystems may not be fully comprehended yet. Nothing in the traditional automotive business, which has remained relatively unchanged for many decades, is safe anymore. Everything is fair game, and OEMs are at a risk of no longer being the masters of their destiny.
Electronics and Software and Development as a Strategic Capability
By some measures, software is now the dominant component in vehicles and its importance continues to grow. As software has grown in both volume and complexity and evolved from controlling electromechanical subsystem to becoming the key differentiator for the customer experience, the challenge in developing reliable software has intensified, as is evident by the increasing number of software-related vehicle recalls. J.D. Power’s SafetyIQ reported that the number of technical service bulletins (TSBs) relating to software issues increased from an average of 58 per year between 2006 and 2010 to an average of 160 per year from 2011 through 2015.
The New Era of PLM
Automakers use product development methods that have been optimized and perfected repeatedly over many decades. But these practices may not suffice anymore. In fact, some of these methods may have been in place for so long that organizations will find it difficult to wean from and evolve swiftly to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Now, more than ever, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software has a critical role as the main repository of product information that allows stakeholders throughout the entire product lifecycle to navigate and understand relationships between design activities and representations from multiple disciplines that operate in different cadences. It encourages parallel development and synchronization between different design and testing activities: electronics, PCB and wiring, software, and mechanical design.
PLM forms the digital thread that unifies the all-too-common fragmented product development environment, with its multitude of formal and informal engineering tools and product development paradigms. A common PLM platform enables uniform access to authoring tools and exchanges information with enterprise systems, automates manual processes and provides migration and translation from legacy systems.
Automotive OEMs and suppliers must modernize and adapt their methods and tools to manage new challenges in product development. They should focus on enhancing their product lifecycle thinking, enabling a digital thread of information and decision-making processes that allow all stakeholder gain accurate and unbiased insight and drive better product design, supply chain, and customer-facing decisions.
Image: Edison Baker Electric Car (c. 1895)