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Analysis

Performance, Comfort at Forefront of Innovation

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 09:25

From brake-assist tech to lane-changing safety advances, the modern car is a far cry from its origins as simply a means of getting from Point A to Point B. And in this new era of advanced connectivity, not only does today's vehicle talk to you, it lets your applications 'talk' to each other.

Gone are the days when cars were just a means of transportation. As technology evolves and more brands participate in the market, automakers seek to stand out by improving driving performance while creating mobility spaces that indulge comfort and enhance connectivity with the digital world. Performance and passenger experience have generated two paths for automakers to focus on during their product-development process, each with its own end-goals and challenges for both OEMs and suppliers.

Performance, on one side of the coin, has focused on enhancing the driver experience by delivering vehicles with a higher power output while also delivering more fuel efficiency. To manage this, OEMs must perfect a vehicle’s design to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag, using lighter materials in as many components as possible. Previously, these were mostly concerns for sports car brands but drastic times call for drastic measures. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have set fuel efficiency and consumption standards for 2025 at 54.5 mpg (23.17 km/L). This represents an increase of almost 50 percent from the latest standards presented by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, at 36.4 mpg (15.5 km/L).

The 2025 efficiency goals are under revision once more after automakers and US government representatives expressed concerns over their impact on production costs and the final price for users. Nevertheless, fuel efficiency is an ongoing trend that all automakers are trying to follow. That puts the spotlight on suppliers participating in the production chain. Raw materials suppliers have found a market niche in the use of lightweight materials including metals like aluminum, as well as polymers and composites that can be used alongside steel. The introduction of these new alternatives to steel has also led to the use of more adhesives to replace traditional welding techniques. “Components are now made of plastic even when they have a structural or mechanical role,” says Juan José Zaragoza, Marketing and Sales Manager and Mexico Country Leader of DuPont Performance Materials - NEP/HPS. “Polymer components have made vehicles not only lighter but safer. Auto parts now have a higher impact resistance, have a longer lifespan and are better adapted to manage harsh environmental conditions.”

Engine developers have also felt the impact of increased fuel- efficiency standards. Eight-cylinder engines, the once-upon-a- time normal configuration for most vehicles, are now reserved only for high-performance sports and luxury brands like Aston Martin and Ferrari. Downsizing has become a priority for volume brands, resulting in engines of three and four-cylinder engines. Models from volume brands like Ford and Nissan that demand high power are now equipped with turbochargers to get the most out of a small engine configuration. According to market research company Markets and Markets, turbochargers are expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 7.63 percent and a potential market size of US$18.5 billion by 2021.

The other side of the coin is to improve passenger experience. This focus has created a new business for developing better electronics that provide connectivity between the car and mobile devices, and for components that ensure greater comfort for the passenger. “Cars will become an extension of your office or your living room,” says Torben Eckardt, Managing Director of Volvo Car México.

Infotainment solutions have now evolved to the point of being as advanced and complex as cellphone platforms. Moreover, software developers like Apple and Google have now developed their own automotive systems: CarPlay and Android Auto. The line dividing automotive suppliers and IT providers is blurring as technology companies become more involved in the development of new vehicles. “Particularly when managing volume, collaboration between companies is a powerful tool to reduce production costs,” says Radek Jelinek, President and Director General of Mercedes-Benz México.

Samsung Electronics is a clear example of the importance technology companies are placing on the future of the automotive industry. To take advantage of the business opportunities in the industry, the company acquired the sound system giant Harman International Industries. “The close of this transaction opens the door to create substantial growth opportunities and to deliver greater benefits for customers worldwide,” said Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Samsung Electronics, and Chairman of the Board at HARMAN, in a statement issued after the completion of the acquisition. “We see transformative opportunities in the car and a future that seamlessly connects lifestyle across automotive, home, mobile and work.”