Automotive industry needs to check its electric vehicle ‘blind spot’

As consumers continue to shift their preferences towards electric vehicles, the prospect of a 100% EV future is looking ever closer. Major car manufacturers have drawn their lines in the sand, with currently published dates for the total switch from the ICE ranging from 2025 (Jaguar) to 2035 (VW). As revealed in a new whitepaper from Wards Intelligence, ‘The electric vehicle pivot: Why smart manufacturing, not scale, may be the key to success’, commissioned by Hexagon, this process will completely transform all aspects of car manufacturing, disrupting the traditional supply chains to leave openings for innovative, agile new entrants.

The whitepaper highlights a range of critical areas of potential conflict as the industry transitions to EV, including the risk of the industry being blindsided by pure EV players entering the market from outside the traditional supply chain. The whitepaper survey data indicated – surprisingly – that only 8% of respondents felt pure-play EV companies winning market share was a threat.

Accelerated change

With consumers experiencing cleaner air during the lockdowns of 2020, the ongoing global pandemic has been an unexpected accelerant for the switch from ICE to EV, and the speed of change risks wrongfooting businesses in the supply chain. OEMs will soon be under pressure to introduce expanded model ranges to match more closely the ICE equivalents and appeal to drivers more resistant to change. This will come at a time when 90% of the components usually associated with ICE car manufacturing, such as the gearbox, alternators and fuel pumps, are redundant. This leaves the door wide open for electronics manufacturers who have no history in the automotive market, but are capable of identifying a huge opportunity and have both the agility and resources to exploit it.

Electronics giants across the world are eyeing EVs as a new opportunity for growth beyond the mature smartphone market, building new car brands from the ground up and supplying components into the industry. These challengers are achieving a great deal in an incredibly short space of time, unhindered by legacy infrastructure and able to attract investors who can help them through the expensive initial product development stages. Their focus on integrated design and manufacturing processes, with a single ‘language’ across the platforms, results in fast and efficient production and a significant competitive edge.

Asian electronics giants start their cars

Foxconn is the largest electronics contract manufacturer in the world and is probably most widely-known as a key supplier to the largest technology company in the world, Apple Inc. The Chinese company’s attention has now turned from smartphones to EVs, and late last year announced a new EV ecosystem, as described in Hexagon’s whitepaper: “[Foxconn] has been positioning itself over the last 18 months to be a major resource to the automotive industry. Foxconn has built an open software and hardware platform for developing EVs called MIH and has attracted 1400 companies into its ecosystem since announcing the platform in November 2020.” This is a real statement of intent and indicative of the dwindling gap between the automotive and electronics industries. And Foxconn are not alone, as the whitepaper continues: “Huawei’s intent is to be known as a combined Bosch and Intel of China, and be pervasive across the automotive industry.”

The marketplace is now wide open and established manufacturers need to respond to these new challenges with new strategies and new technology. In the past, remaining competitive meant negotiating economies of scale to keep costs down, but the realities of the push towards 100% EV require increased responsiveness and more efficient, autonomous manufacturing processes. A new mindset must be applied to the whole concept of car manufacturing.

Keith Perrin, Senior Director – Digital Transformation for Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, a global leader in sensor, software and autonomous solutions, explained: “So how is the ecosystem changing? For a start, suppliers are now being asked for a different set of skills. They’re being asked to take part in a process that’s more vertically integrated, involving more agile ideas, like continuous improvement and continuous deployment.

“For example, if someone on the factory floor were to find problem, he or she fixes it right there and then, involving a vertical team to get it addressed, as needed. A fix would be integrated and deployed ASAP. Traditionally, what would have happened is an issue would have been raised and it would have gone round the “sausage machine” to get a fix identified, designed, approved, tested and rolled out. Depending on the problem it might take days, weeks, or months to get resolved. This is still happening, but in a much more dynamic, and often automated way.

“Now the team gets together to pragmatically address a fix, almost, right there and then. Rather than going through different groups of people, pushing an issue through a process, that group of people is more likely to be a more “vertical”, team comprising of the skills needed for a fix. Since that team is given responsibility for getting it done, they can move a lot faster than older, more traditional, process dictated.”

Driving efficiency through data

How do manufacturers build towards more integrated processes and continuous improvement? Smart manufacturing represents the route to more agile and integrated manufacturing processes that can allow manufacturers to adapt quickly to change, monitor quality in real time, and share data across departments seamlessly. Sensors are now able to collect data in more ways and at ever increasing levels of accuracy. These work in harmony with new AI-powered software that is able to translate the data into more efficient, smart, autonomous processes – making manufacturers more agile and competitive – in short, fit for the new 100% EV landscape.

A deep dive into a transforming sector

It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of what is currently taking place in the automotive sector, but with that comes the risk of reacting like a rabbit in the headlights. Acknowledging the need for change is one thing, but acting proactively is another entirely. The Wards Intelligence whitepaper provides an ideal starting point to begin building towards the 100% EV future, with expert insight based on exclusive survey data from the automotive industry.

Download the report now and help shape the future of EV.

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