Future Vehicles: La-Z-Boy Interiors on a Skateboard Chassis?

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Could nearly all future vehicles be based on lightweight “skateboard” chassis, drive autonomously, and feature comfortable and stylish interior furnishings by the likes of La-Z-Boy, Herman Miller or Ikea? 
 
Yes, said Jacqui Dedo, chief strategy and procurement officer at Dana Holding Corp. (dana.com) in a provocative speech at the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars (cargroup.org). 
 
Chassis. Dedo noted chassis saw little change for five decades until unibodies became standard starting in the 1970s. With shrinking engine sizes, chassis producers can now begin to make use of more composite and carbon fiber materials, prompting the next major revolution in chassis. “Ultimately, the industry will get to the lightweight ‘skateboard’ chassis, with nearly every model of an automaker’s fleet built on a uniform chassis,” Dedo said. “With this transformation to carbon fiber and composite materials, chassis builders will need to look at their manufacturing knowledge base and skills, such as injection and compression molding capabilities.” 
 
Interior. For the near future, Dedo argued that vehicle interiors will remain steady. However once the autonomous car becomes pervasive, she said change will be “massive,” making current configurations for seating, controls, steering and entertainment obsolete. “The revolutionary change for interiors will come with the success of the autonomous vehicle, when cars will be transformed into rolling offices, living rooms or whatever the consumer can dream up,” Dedo said.

Interior suppliers could find themselves competing with the likes of La-Z-Boy, Herman Miller and Ikea, she added.

Electronics. Electronics now account for 40% of a vehicle’s total cost, up 20% from 10 years ago, Dedo noted. The rate of transformation in this area will steadily increase at a constant rate. The focus now is on improving the functionality of existing systems. 

The challenge now and in the future for automotive electronics suppliers lies in finding and keeping talent in anticipation of the autonomous car, Dedo argued. New competitors such as Google, Sony, Samsung and Nintendo could compete with existing electronics suppliers in this space. 

Powertrain. The looming 2025 CAFE mandate is the primary focus of powertrain developers in the near-term, with two-to-three evolutions likely in the next 10 years. The large number of powertrain options today will keep R&D investments high for the next decade, Dedo said, but as powertrain options converge, investments will become more focused. “From a production standpoint, major investments will remain relatively constant through the mid-term,” she explained. “We will see tweaks and improvements, such as flexible manufacturing cells and better heat treatments, but nothing that will have a major impact on production methods and requirements in the coming cycles.” 

Engineering talent working on powertrain is also of concern, Dedo argued. “Powertrain development will continue to be dominated by mechanical engineers, but as we forecast gains of hybrids and EVs, the need to augment technical centers with more electrical and chemical engineers is clear,” she said.

Dedo said the auto industry is “on the verge of incredible change.” Companies
that understand trends, industry requirements and consumer expectations will succeed.—ZP