The Rapidly Changing Automotive Industry — A Thought Leader's Perspective

By ANSYS Advantage Staff

Professor Burkhard Goeschel is the former CTO of Magna, a former member of the BMW Management Board, and the current head of the FIA Commission for Alternative Powertrain technologies. He has a passion for the automotive industry and motor sports. In a three-part interview series, he shares his views on the present and future of the automotive industry with Rob Harwood, ANSYS global industry director. This second part focuses on his background and insights into the changes that are disrupting the automotive industry.

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The Rapidly Changing Automotive Industry

Professor Burkhard Goeschel 

Rob Harwood: Tell me a little of your journey through the automotive industry.

Burkhard Goeschel: I have always had a passion for automobiles that goes back to my childhood. My professional career started at Daimler where I focused on research and development, and advanced engine designs. I then moved to BMW to help develop the automaker’s first diesel engine, electronic power management and powertrain. I also worked on the company’s motorcycle program, and spent time in the United States to establish the manufacturing facility in South Carolina and the supporting supply chain. Then came the acquisition of the Rover Group, and I was involved in many exciting projects associated with that technology. Ultimately, I became a member of the management board at BMW with a focus on R&D and purchasing. At the prescribed age, I retired from BMW, but I still wanted to follow my passion.

So I became the CTO of Magna International and accumulated many air miles on the flights between Canada and Germany. Today, I am an independent consultant to the industry and get involved in many different areas, from engines to electronics and materials.

“If those manufacturers in Europe or the U.S. do not change enough to compete, it will become very difficult for them.”

RH: You also have a passion for motor sports. What is your involvement in that part of the industry?

BG: When I was a child, my father took me to a Grand Prix and I found myself playing soccer in the pits with Stirling, now Sir Stirling, Moss, one of the legendary drivers in Formula 1 history. Maybe that’s where my interest in fast cars started. Professionally, at BMW I was the head of their Formula 1 department, and to this day I remain as the head of Formula 1’s alternative powertrain commission. I initiated the Formula E series (electric cars), which is now a very popular race series in its own right. I am always looking for the technologies of the future.

RH: What influence has high-end motor sport had on the cars that most of us drive on a daily basis?

BG: Motor sport balances creating a show or a spectacle while pushing the boundaries of technology. I mentioned my role in Formula E earlier, and this has definitely helped electric vehicles and electric vehicle technology, such as batteries. There are other examples of the technology cascade, and the same is true for other forms of motor sport as well. But we have to remember, it is still a spectacle!

RH: After a difficult few years because of the financial crisis and “dieselgate”, the automotive industry is once again booming with record sales and very high levels of R&D. What factors do you see as driving this?

BG: There are a number of different factors pushing the industry. Reducing emissions such as CO2 is one. Reducing fatalities and improving connectivity to make driving safer and more convenient are others. Autonomy, something in the news all the time, is another way of addressing safety and convenience. The industry has to solve a wide range of challenges in the future, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how to do that. It requires a lot of investment and capabilities building.

RH: In this booming industry, we see the emergence of high-demand and domestic manufacturing in countries that were not previously automotive powerhouses. What’s your take on that?

BG: China is not only a key market but also a key driver of the market now that the country is stepping into new technologies, such as electrification of powertrains and connectivity. They are catching up and want to become No. 1 in these areas, so there is a lot of pressure from these emerging countries in this industry.


RH: What do you think this means for the more traditional centers of gravity in the industry?

BG: They have to change to become the leaders in new technology. And if those manufacturers in Europe or the U.S. do not change enough to compete, it will become very difficult for them.

RH: Turning back to the topic of technology, despite all the talk of electric vehicles, IC engines are going to be with us for quite some time yet. You have a long history working on IC engines. Where have you seen the biggest developments and what do you see on the horizon?

BG: If I had to pick one area it would be improvements in efficiency and emission control. And these innovations have been heavily driven by legislation. Looking forward, the real-driving emissions (RDE) legislation being implemented in Europe will require even more innovation in IC engines. This may accelerate the use of electric and hybrid technology to deliver more power, which enables the engine to perform at a high level while conforming to these new standards.

RH: Innovation is not just happening with the engine. Other industries are adopting new materials, such as advanced carbon composites, and embracing new techniques such as additive manufacturing. What is your view on their role in the automotive industry?

BG: Carbon fiber has not reached the cost level to make it really interesting. We will only see carbon fiber on more expensive cars, like sports cars, where cost is less of a constraint. On regular cars, it will be restricted to some components, like those that reinforce body structures, because it is too expensive. Aluminum is also being used more, as are plastic components, so it is a mix of materials. This will reduce weight and reduce the emissions, but manufacturers still have to operate within a cost envelope. Additive manufacturing is not significant today, but as the cost of this technology reduces, I would see it playing a role. At this moment, it is more or less restricted to prototyping and, in some cases, producing parts with complex geometry. In the future, additive manufacturing opens the door for companies to become much more flexible and potentially move beyond standardized platform strategies. This customization is becoming a must, because changing customer desires will require companies to produce cars on demand.

RH: Producing cars on demand is a little bit like the promise of Industry 4.0, where we have the ability to move from mass production to mass customization — is that what you are alluding to?

BG: Yes. Because the car industry invests in facilities, factories and processes that are restricted to specific platforms, the flexibility will no longer be high enough for future demand. Additive manufacturing can become a part of increasing product customization in the future, but it must develop further.

RH: We also see high-tech and semiconductor companies making a pivot into the automotive sector to the point where you can almost imagine tomorrow’s car being a cellphone on wheels. How do the traditional automotive OEMs respond to this?

BG: There are two different areas to consider. For a car, there is a lot more integration of functionalities, and that requires a lot of software and computing power to get to a higher level of functionality. That is one area where the OEMs and high-tech companies can collaborate. The other area where non-automotive companies are stepping in to the traditional OEM role has a lot to do with connectivity. This could be getting outside information into the car for safety or convenience, such as knowing traffic conditions in advance. But the high-tech companies’ business case depends on the driver having a lot more time to be connected, so a prerequisite to making the business case work is the realization of autonomous driving. That is why we see some of the outside big companies entering the automotive industry.

"Functional safety and realizing additional performance from the combined or connected systems is a target that cannot be reached without simulation."

RH: With regard to the increase in electronics, integration of systems and a lot more software within the cars, from an engineering perspective, how do the engineers balance all that extra capability with the highly stringent requirements for functional safety?

BG: Functional safety is becoming more and more important as the complexities increase. An engineer who was responsible for functional safety of an active suspension system told me he came back from his functional safety investigations and could no longer think it through in his head because it is now so complicated. We need new systems to address the challenge of functional safety. Simulation is one of the most important ways to solve complexity issues. Simulation is a prerequisite to handling functional safety in complex systems.

RH: Do you see a requirement for simulation more broadly, not just in functional safety, but in squeezing out those extra performance aspects in the vehicle?

BG: More and more complex automotive systems are controlled by software. And, because there are not very many software engineers in the car industry, solving software issues can become a problem. Functional safety and realizing additional performance from the combined or connected systems is a target that cannot be reached without simulation. It cannot be done mechanically. It cannot be done with linear thinking. It requires a system thinking approach, which is totally removed from engineers’ past activities. It is a new approach that should be supported by tools that must be developed for these engineers.

RH: Traditionally, simulation has been used by the analyst. Do you feel simulation is becoming pervasive, that it is more integrated throughout the business as opposed to a purely engineering function?

BG: Simulation is currently not deeply enough embedded in the business discussion in the automotive industry. Companies should simulate the whole value chain, and that means starting at the beginning of a new operation.

Simulation is still considered a kind of add-on for the engineers — it provides a solution to an existing problem. As systems become more complex, organizations need to integrate simulation in the planning process at the beginning, and that has not yet really begun. Maybe this is the case in aerospace, as those companies don’t make that many prototypes, but the car industry is not yet in that position.

RH: So with all these disruptive changes that we’ve talked about, such as autonomy, connectivity and electrification, do you see the role of simulation growing in importance?

BG: That is without any question. Simulation has to start at the beginning of each process and go through the whole chain to the end.

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