Development Speed Tops Automakers’ Wish Lists, Dassault Says

ROYAL OAK, MI – For automakers, the future may be all about speed.

Not in the 0-60 mph or top-end-performance sense the industry is long experienced in and comfortable with, but speed in terms of developing reliable products and bringing them to market faster – and, ultimately, keeping them up to date over their 12-year-and-counting lifespans.

Pressured by startups and other disruptors and caught up in what may be the industry’s most dynamic period of change as vehicles become electrified, software-driven and connected, automakers clearly have a need to move more quickly.

“Everyone is looking for speed, speed, speed,” says Laurence Montanari, vice president for Dassault Systemes’ Transportation and Mobility operations. “Speed of execution is the key.”

That presents an opportunity for the Paris-based industrial-applications provider, its executives believe. Dassault Systemes, whose CATIA software ushered in the auto industry’s movement to computer-aided design and engineering during the 1980s, now provides cloud-based tools that can help OEMs do a lot in less time – from designing a complete vehicle to maximizing manufacturing efficiency to better meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

An auto industry that once was organized around multi-year development cycles, now talks in terms of months – “and the future is weeks,” Montanari declares here at the company’s new regional office that houses some 350 workers previously split among three different locations around Detroit.

It is difficult to get companies to change processes and strategies when they’re making money, Bill DeVries, director of North American customer solutions for Dassault Systemes’ Transportation and Mobility arm, concedes. But the unprecedented pressure coming from new battery-electric-vehicle competitors and never-seen-before supply chain disruptions that have occurred in the past few years – microchip shortages for one – are providing the impetus, he contends.

“It’s all about speed and cost,” DeVries says, noting Dassault Systemes’ fastest-growing sector is the North American auto industry, which has posted double-digit revenue gains for the supplier in the past year.

Changing market dynamics brought on by the software revolution in consumer products has raised vehicle buyer expectations as well: Customers desire the latest features and functionality over the life of their cars and trucks, and they want to be wowed every so often by something unexpected.

As a result, building scale is no longer the top priority for manufacturers; instead, they are looking to design in adaptability to respond and get ahead of their competitors, says Tom Acland, CEO of Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXCITE operation that provides software aimed at shaping the customer-experience for automakers and suppliers.

“It feels like a sprint that will be followed by a marathon,” Acland says of the industry’s current transition stage, explaining that once new software-defined-vehicle technology is available and digested, automakers will have to determine how best to use it and monetize it. “Big things are coming in the near term, but the real game happens after that, once things are in place and companies have to figure out how to evolve their businesses.”

Dassault Systemes points to its 3DEXCITE design platform as one tool that can help automakers improve the user experience to draw and retain customers and potentially open up new revenue models. One example: The lighting sequence that activates when the driver approaches the vehicle can be modeled and tested to see what works best using the Dassault Systemes software, executives say.

Without such virtual tools, Montanari says, automakers can’t really test their concepts without having hardware in place, well down the road in the product-development cycle. “That’s too late (in the game),” she says.

U.K.-based Jaguar Land Rover added Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE collaborative design and program-management tool to its operations earlier this month and says more than 18,000 users across its business areas and suppliers will make use of “virtual twins” created by the software platform to increase efficiency, improve production management, save time and reduce waste and costs.

Olivier Sappin, CEO for Dassault Systemes’ global CATIA business, says the virtual twin is the next stage in vehicle design, in which digitalization starts at the beginning of the product-development cycle with every part designed and tested virtually and data shared across the organization in real time.

“It’s larger than the digital twin,” he says of the virtual twin, “because it starts at Day 1.”

Dassault Systemes’ software also can be used to develop marketing materials that help explain technology to customers, a marketing area the company believes remains a big hurdle for the industry.

Tech-savvy buyers may know what they’re getting, but “ultimately you have to reach the masses, and they don’t understand technology as much,” Acland points out. The industry must change its thinking “away from what is possible to what is delightful and what can be fully digested by people.”

Another challenge ahead for automakers – and what Dassault Systemes views as another business opportunity – is to harness all the data now being produced and bring artificial intelligence more completely into the design-process mix.

“No industry produces more data than automotive,” notes DeVries. “How (automakers) will leverage that remains to be seen. But we’re going at it aggressively.”