VEHICLE DEVELOPMENT TEAMS NOWADAYS CHASE MOVING TARGETS
The background to the chaotic state in the global motor industry was spelled out in my Zoo column in the previous edition of Automotive Refinisher. Now it is time to look at the effects that the moving targets, such as potential bans on cars with petrol or diesel engines, the swing to electric power plants and autonomous, self-driving cars are having on the “backroom boys and girls” who must keep changing their focus.
The backroom boys and girls I am talking about are the product engineers, production engineering teams, supply chain personnel and all those people involved directly in complex vehicle manufacturing processes.
I was fortunate to be able to experience the challenges they face first hand when I was invited to attend a Porsche Cayenne Technology Workshop in Germany recently, accompanying Christo Kruger, Porsche SA’s affable PR boss, and three other journalists.
The pressures and tight time frames under which Porsche people must operate in these fast-stepping times of rapidly evolving new technologies were brought home at the workshop which highlighted the latest technologies incorporated into the 2018 Cayenne.
Porsche not only has to make sure it stays ahead of the game in the highly competitive premium end of the passenger car market, where SUVs are now highly desirable status symbols, but it must also co-ordinate its product development with its partners in the Volkswagen Group, in this case Audi (Q7) and Volkswagen (Touareg), who all share the MLB platform.
The global automotive industry is transforming at a breathtaking pace, not only in terms of adapting new technologies, but also working with a variety of different materials, such as using a combination of aluminium, steel and plastic for the vehicle body, which all bring their own challenges, such as varying rates of expansion.
Car manufacturers counted model lead times in years up until only a few years ago. Now it is months. This is due to the rapid and ongoing development of new technologies and changes in consumer demand, which are currently leaning towards connectivity and an increasing measure of autonomous driving features.
Then, there is still regulatory compliance required by the authorities in matters such as fuel consumption, emissions, and crashworthiness. They have been with us for yonks, but are now getting far more stringent and it is now increasingly costly to meet those required standards.
Throw in the fact that reliability and durability should be givens as far as consumers in the 21st century are concerned. This means that the rate and scope of endurance testing must be increased and accelerated as lead times are shortened.
This is doubly so in the case of an SUV, such as the Porsche Cayenne, which not only needs to shine in terms of its performance on tarmacadam roads – including possible outings at race tracks – but also requires more than a modicum of ability in off-road driving conditions to be a true, world-leading SUV.
Taking up all these challenges in tight time frames and with cost restrictions highlight the need for a dedicated, experienced, and highly skilled workforce. In Porsche’s case, this extends to 6 000 engineers – claimed to be the best qualified team in the industry – working in product development.
This is besides all those people employed in production engineering and procurement, with the latter having to co-operate very closely with suppliers, who are nowadays responsible for an increasing amount of component design and development.
Porsche power units have gone from normally aspirated petrol to turbocharged petrol, turbocharged diesel, petrol-electric and plug-in hybrids, while there are now pure electric models waiting in the wings.
Porsche transmissions have evolved from manual gearboxes to Tiptronic dual clutches and fully automatic transmissions with a torque converter, while some are linked to complex all-wheel drive systems and incorporate an automatic, fuel-saving stop/start feature.
The enthralling explanations by highly qualified Porsche engineers of the roll-out of new technologies and new solutions for old problems, backed up by visuals and a host of quality cutaway exhibits made for a very interesting day at the world class ADAC driver training facility in Grevenbroich, near Düsseldorf.
Topics for the group of South African journalists were handled in the order of Electrics/Electronics, Powertrain, Chassis, Body, and Taxi Drive, which involved being chauffeured on test tracks by top class Porsche drivers. This meant we could listen to real experts drilling down into the latest technologies in the various aspects of designing and developing the 2018 Porsche Cayenne.
Among the most interesting innovations were Porsche-developed tungsten carbide-coated brake discs for better performance and durability, as well as producing less dust, while costing about one third of a set of ceramic brakes. Others were an adaptive rear spoiler on the tailgate which adjusts to driving conditions, including acting as an air brake in an emergency, and temperature controlled flaps on the radiator and intercooler air intakes for best performance linked to aerodynamic benefits.