Test The Limits

Fresh perspectives on automotive design

By Exa

October 21 2015

In his ‘Confessions of a Capital Junkie’, Head of Fiat-Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, paints the picture of an industry that increasingly struggles to make money. But the idea that car manufacturing is now so difficult that no one would want to enter it, could actually inspire the opposite reaction and draw new players to the business. This is especially true if they come from the electronics industry; and rumor has it that both Google and Apple are investigating possible entries into the car market.


Newcomers without that car-industry mindset are going to approach it from a completely different angle. They’re not going to build a car by saying, ‘first I need all these expensive test facilities because I want to build all these prototypes’. No, if they’re coming from the electronics world, they’ll be using simulation.


Simulation has completely changed that industry, to the point where prototypes are built for confirmation and nothing else. This is because before final handset production, millions of internal circuitry permutations and minute, competing design elements are simulated, in order to achieve optimum efficiency of processing power and material usage.


The freedom to simulate such vast combinations without considerable restrictions on time or money means that the cost of research and development for new mobile phones has dropped dramatically over the last 10-15 years. It has lowered the cost of entry into the market and allowed makers to build products at a much faster pace. The irony of all of this, however, is that the software phone manufacturers use to conduct these tests actually comes from the automotive industry.


That said, simulation is gradually being implemented into the car industry and is speeding up prototype development, but not everyone has embraced it wholeheartedly. Leading-edge brands like Tesla have put simulation front and centre of their development and have reaped the benefits accordingly.


These makers are leaner, faster to market and saving money at the same time. Reducing hours spent in the wind-tunnel for example is a huge time and cost saver. Of course, the car industry is much more about creating the physical rather than the virtual world of the smartphone, but there is still plenty to learn from the electronics industry about digital prototyping.