3 Things with Derek Jenkins, Sandy Munro and Brett Smith
Derek Jenkins, Vice President of Design, Lucid Motors
What message do you want the overall design of the Lucid Air to telegraph?
The Air speaks the sometimes-disparate languages of technology and elegance. Our customers want technology, as expressed through performance, efficiency, materials, even lighting design. You see a lot of inspiration from aircraft design in the Air, including an aluminum body and glass canopy, but the overall design needed to exude elegance through sculpted yet fluid surfaces. We aren’t after traditional luxury; we want to clearly deliver on the promise of the future.
What was the biggest challenge in developing the overall design? The aero?
It’s funny, I was initially reluctant about the cab-forward design the Air needed. However, its shape – as defined by the needs of aerodynamics, passenger space, and EV packaging overall – rejects the old expressions of a powerful sedan, and I love it. It’s a paradigm shift, the new expression of a large, powerful sedan effortlessly slipping through the air.
Lucid Air (Image: Lucid Motors)
Going forward, do you see vehicle architectures changing as electric motors and autonomous functions make traditional approaches unnecessary?
Absolutely. EV architectures provide considerable freedom for design. I’ve come to the conclusion that with the smaller components and the modularity that electrification makes possible, we’ll go in two directions. The first is the logical step towards something new, efficient, and useable for daily life. The other is total freedom for performance and lifestyle vehicles. It’s exciting, a renaissance of vehicle design.
Sandy Munro, CEO, Munro & Associates
You have been critical of Tesla’s manufacturing capabilities. Has the company gotten it together?
Tesla continues to push the boundaries, and their manufacturing capabilities are no exception. It is no secret Tesla’s body in white (BIW) assembly and resulting fit and finish were marginal; however, improvements are begin made. No one can deny the two rear mega-casting in the Model Y structure represented a step change in the right direction. These two castings replaced hundreds of parts and provide a dimensionally accurate foundation for a more precise body build. But Tesla wasn’t satisfied and is now installing a one-piece casting that will be “a complete” rear end, plus they are working on a cast front end. Tesla will be assured of a near-net body build and well on their way to perfecting and revolutionizing body manufacturing and assembly.
Traditional OEMs are getting into electric vehicles in more substantial ways. Are they going to be hobbled by the sunk costs of all of those engine plants?
ICE (internal combustion engine) investments are sure to become burdensome to traditional OEMs. As the demand for electric vehicles increases, there is less demand for ICE vehicles. This means slower line speeds and reduced working shifts building up to underutilized assets. OEMs will be consolidating engine plants and closing others to maintain efficient operations. Some may even repurpose those idled plants into battery manufacturing facilities. Regardless, OEMs will have to make substantial investments to modify existing engine plants and upgrade idle plants to produce EV powertrains. OEMs will indeed be hobbled by the sunk costs, and the return on new investments may be delayed as EV production volumes ramp up.
People are talking reshoring. Is it going to be possible to compete with low-wage labor without doing a design-for-manufacturing re-do of components?
Reshoring unoptimized designs is simply trading dollars between lower wages and increased shipping costs. It is typically a net sum zero gain. Spending the time upfront to ensure designs are efficient and lean has the biggest return. Simply, it is best practice to iterate design alternatives to reach the optimum component and system solution prior to embarking on detailed CAD development. That said, traditional design thinking will no longer be sufficient. The technology prowess and continuous improvement pace set by Tesla is accelerating the gap, and OEMs must step up their innovation efforts and speed if they want to stay in the EV race. Though it is imperative new product designs are lean, it is also critical these designs push the innovation envelope and are then continuously refined. It is a pace unaccustomed in traditional OEMs, and they will be challenged to balance this pace and innovation across legacy and EV powertrain technologies.
Brett Smith, Director, Technology, Center for Automotive Research
What are the biggest challenges for suppliers today?
The most direct answer is surviving the pandemic-induced downturn. Suppliers have mostly weathered the initial hit. But the shutdown shocked and weakened the industry. Follow-up surges may prove too much for some. In time, suppliers will get back to “business as usual”—but the business of building automotive parts has changed. Automakers are diving deep into battery electric vehicles (BEVs), automated driving, and ADAS. These changes are driving new manufacturing paradigms. Suppliers are developing new technologies—knowing fully well that it may be years before they get a return on investment. Surviving the profit desert will be tough for everybody.
Do suppliers have the manufacturing technologies necessary to meet these challenges?
For suppliers, manufacturing is changing on at least two fronts. First, suppliers are evolving many of their manufacturing processes to build new technology products. Companies are struggling to figure out how their current manufacturing capabilities crosswalk into new technologies. Second, they are beginning to explore and implement Industry X technologies. Suppliers are implementing new data-driven manufacturing processes in fits and starts. CARs recent work on Industry X shows a wide range of implementation experience among the automotive supply base. Manufacturing companies are capturing more data than ever before—now they need to figure out what to do with it.
Will BEVs reduce the relevance of traditional engineering/manufacturing resources?
Automotive propulsion appears to be at the brink of a seismic shift to BEVs. While consumers have not acquired the taste for BEVs, the industry seems committed. But they may not be fully aware of how it will revolutionize their engineering resources. Tesla best illustrates how rapidly engineering leadership can change. A decade ago, a common thought was that Tesla was at a significant disadvantage because they had little or no experience designing and building automobiles. A decade later, Tesla has become the undisputed BEV technology leader. Shift is happening fast. The traditional industry must move faster.
Ford has made an accomplishment that will never be bested, never even be tied.
Although the RAV4 has plenty of heritage in the small crossover segment, competition has gotten a whole lot tougher, so Toyota has made significant changes to the fourth-generation model.
Chinese electric-car startup Nio Inc. is forming a manufacturing joint venture with Beijing E-Town International Investment and Development Co., which is investing 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in the business.