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“I’m not saying it is the end of cars. But cars are under tension,” says design expert and Dassault Systèmes vp Anne Asensio.

Asensio on the Transformation of Auto

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With serious design stints at Renault (three years) and General Motors (seven), Anne Asensio knows more than a little something about car design. And she knows a whole lot about the technology of design, as she joined Paris-based Dassault Systèmes (3ds.com) in 2007 as its vice president, Design Experience. Dassault is the company that provides an integrated array of 3D design, 3D digital mockup, and product lifecycle management (PLM) software. (As in, for example, CATIA.)

One of the challenges that Asensio thinks that OEMs face is probably not what you might expect. “Design has been mastered by almost all OEMs. Most companies have beautiful cars. The protocol, practice, and methodology of design are well understood. Design, at a previous time, was the way to differentiate. Now everyone has it.”

So, if designing great cars and trucks is not the challenge, what is? Becoming a commodity. And avoiding this, Asensio suggests, requires that people at OEMs “completely rethink” the vehicle. “Maybe at the end, it is a car, but they have to get there from a different viewpoint,” she says, explaining that it is important to think of the car in the context of the end-to-end customer experience. This ranges from the creative front end (and the consumer may be more plugged in to this front end than has ever been the case) to the engineering world to the retail channel.

There are societal, technical and regulatory forces at play. Urbanization. Connectivity. Emissions reductions. All of these have to be faced by vehicle manufacturers.

What’s more, there is, in certain cases, a relative indifference by some younger people to the automobile. Asensio notes that she lives in Paris where having a car is “completely irrelevant.” And she goes on to say that despite the fact that there are a BMW Z3, Jeep Wrangler, V8 Camaro, and Land Rover Evoque in her garage, “My 22-year-old son doesn’t have a driving license, and he has that stable to drive.” She admits, of course, that smart phones are providing a different kind of mobility for younger generations, and that when a device provides mobility, a car will stand still.

Asensio thinks that the solution will come from a new generation of designers who have a different perspective. “They love cars, but their experience of the car is not necessarily just about beautiful surfacing.”

“To attract them” she says, “there will have to be a new process, a new enterprise, a new solution, a new ecosystem.” Rather than like a conventional, traditional automotive operation, it will be more like working at a high-tech company: “A co-creation ecosystem where everyone contributes.”

And where the end products are not just beautiful surfaces, but comprehensive experiences.—GSV