Imagine how difficult it was for Armand Peugeot or Henry Ford to stake their fortunes and reputations on the newfangled, “who really cares” invention called automobiles? After all, there was nothing wrong with the horse-drawn carriage or bicycle. Why would anyone in their right mind want to replace these trustworthy forms of transportation with noisy, undependable, and downright dangerous motor carriages?
A quick glance at the number of vehicles on any city street or highway will tell you—these and dozens of other automotive innovators were abundantly successful. Yet their journey was an arduous one, full of economic setbacks, occasional recalls, and even a few colossal mistakes (think Fuller Dymaxion). Indeed, this long history of lessons learned mixed in with profound technological advancements stretches back more than a century, giving its contributors an established foundation on which to continue their domination of this highly competitive market.
How then do upstarts like Tesla Motors, Wheego Electric Cars, BYD, and others expect to muscle their way onto the autobahn of modern automobile manufacturing, and do so without the decades of experience earned by legacy automakers? And what do Apple and Google think they’re doing here, anyway? Competing in this market is a far cry from building search engines or cranking out millions of smart phones each year, no matter how successful those companies may have become by doing so. Simply put, it takes more than a big pile of cash and a bunch of smart people to be a carmaker.
Almost Easy Street
Maybe so, but some might argue that automaking isn’t as tough as one might think—in any case, it’s certainly a whole lot easier than it was at the turn of the previous century. For starters, today’s manufacturing technology is light years ahead of what was available back in the day, and is one instance where a healthy bank account helps level the playing field. Further, the availability of skilled automotive engineers, software developers, marketing people, and an abundance of open minds is making some doors easier than ever to open.
Another game-changer is the ability to accurately model and simulate whatever brainchild the employees of these start-up companies imagine, greatly reducing the time needed for automotive development. This promotes a “blank sheet of paper” approach to vehicle design, and gives companies that are already lighter and more agile than their behemoth counterparts the ability to react quickly to evolving customer expectations.
And expectations are changing—what was once a race to see which automaker could deliver the most stylish interior or sexiest wheel design has turned into an electronics and connectivity competition that moves at hyper speed. Assuming today’s consumer even cares to own a vehicle in the first place, users want on-the-road access to the Internet; they want “infotainment” systems; they want vehicles that are as smart as their cell phones; and they want vehicles that come with an ultimate level of safety, which leads us down the electric, self-driving vehicle path.
Go ahead and label new auto entrants as disruptors, but it’s really the consumers who are disruptive. And who can blame them? Who wouldn’t rather read a book or work on a laptop while being driven across town (and not by some overly talkative cabdriver) than fight through traffic every day? And the pump? Forget it. Unless your personal investment portfolio leans heavily towards fossil fuels, wouldn’t it be nice to plug the car in each day rather than make a trip to the gas station, wondering about fluctuating fuel prices as you fill the tank?
Despite the earlier “what’s so tough about building cars” statement, it’s ironic that the need for connected, high-tech, affordable, and above all safe vehicles puts extreme market pressures on car companies old and new. Battery technology is changing rapidly; never mind the need to keep up with every smart phone operating system update, novel network connectivity protocols, or the ever-present cybersecurity concerns — to say nothing of all the technology and testing development required to achieve Level 4 autonomous vehicle development. Yikes.
So what’s the answer? For one thing, automakers can no longer go it alone. Bold partnerships with tech partners, suppliers, and even government regulators must continue to be formed, and ways to easily collaborate with them found. And the customer must be listened to like never before—after-the-fact market surveys are just that – after the fact. Today’s automaker can plug into social media to gain real-time insight long before the first stamping die is built or component machined.
Accelerating to Success
These considerations and more are addressed in Dassault Systèmes’ latest addition to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The company’s Electro-Mobility Accelerator (EVA) solution analyzes customer preferences and provides ways in which electric vehicle makers can address these needs while remaining profitable and timely. And because EVA is cloud-based, collaboration with teams both internal and external is easy, quick to deploy, and secure. And, it’s a comprehensive software suite that embraces all aspects of electric vehicle manufacturing — from concept feasibility to product simulation to safety validation to manufacturing process verification, ultimately assuring a “design once, build once” outcome.
Unlike some traditional auto-centric platforms, EVA embraces the unique challenges of electric vehicle producers. These include composites processing, additive manufacturing, battery development, and overall performance of your mobility solution. Best of all, the solution keeps vehicle manufacturers nimble, even if they one day grow to fill a giga-factory and work across multiple time zones. Mobility, connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and awesome tools that pull it all together—it’s a cool time to be an automaker, no matter how big you are.