Faurecia developing ‘Cockpit of the Future’
At an investor day in Paris in April 2016, Faurecia officials said the company was aiming to accelerate profitable growth and enhance technology offerings to become a leader in sustainable mobility and the new Cockpit of the Future initiative. Top executives pledged to expand the company’s technology offerings focused on the industry megatrends—environmental protection, connectedness, and autonomous driving—by rapidly expanding its Value Spaces—product lines with strong technology content and high margins.
“The group has strong customer partnerships with all leading and emerging automakers, and its business groups are in global leadership positions with a technology offer to meet industry needs,” Yann Delabrière, Chairman and CEO said at the time. The Value Spaces have a high technology content and margins 200-400 basis points above the Faurecia average.
“The automotive industry is undergoing a technological revolution in terms of environmental performance, connectivity, and autonomous driving, and is also embarking on a dramatic change in business model,” said Patrick Koller, who later became CEO in July 2016. “Faurecia will be a key player in this transformation and enhance its technology offer through strategic opportunities and enlarging its innovation ecosystem. The group has the ambition to become the leader in sustainable mobility and the Cockpit of the Future.”
A little help from partners
In addition to organic growth, Faurecia is looking at strategic opportunities aimed at enlarging its innovation ecosystem, especially for the Cockpit of the Future initiative, through acquisition and partnering.
In July 2017 the company took a majority share in Jiangxi Coagent Electronics, a private Chinese company specializing in infotainment and interior electronic solutions, including the integration of digital displays and HMI (human machine interface) technologies. The company employs 1300 people including more than 300 engineers and is a supplier to leading Chinese automotive manufacturers.
Faurecia finalized and signed its strategic partnership with Parrot Automotive in March 2017 to accelerate development of electronic solutions for the connected vehicle. Parrot Automotive, an automotive connectivity and infotainment specialist, will benefit from new growth opportunities through Faurecia’s strategic relationship with its customers and will eventually become fully integrated into the company.
“The partnership with Parrot Automotive is a unique opportunity to accelerate development of our product offer for the Cockpit of the Future,” said Patrick Koller, Chief Executive Officer of Faurecia, in March. The Jiangxi Coagent Electronics acquisition “marks another important step in the development of our technology offer for the Cockpit of the Future. The strong synergies that exist between Parrot Automotive and Jiangxi Coagent Electronics will make our offer more relevant for our customers.”
Parrot Automotive and Jiangxi Coagent Electronics will leverage a shared commercial and industrial strategy as well as develop a common technology offer led by the combined force of more than 700 software engineers (by mid-2018).
Arguably the most important autonomous-vehicle-related move Faurecia has made was in May, with its tie-up with ZF, again with a focus on the Cockpit of the Future. The strategic engineering partnership, aiming to develop disruptive and differentiating interior and safety technologies for autonomous driving, will identify and develop innovative safety and interior solutions linked to different potential occupant positions.
“Together, we can offer complete interior safety features to meet the future challenges which will allow the interior of the future to be safe, connected, versatile, and predictive,” said Koller.
Highly flexible and comfortable interiors which still offer the highest active and passive safety will be the key drivers for the adoption of different interior configurations. In particular, the seats will integrate significant portions of safety devices, enabling them to swivel and recline or allow an efficient return to driving mode.
Building autonomous capabilities
As vehicles become more automated, the changing technology presents challenges in the automotive status quo and the traditional supply base. Faurecia is uniquely placed among major suppliers since it is focused on the complete cabin, said David DeGrange, Vice President of the company’s Cockpit of the Future. It has two business groups involved in the complete cabin, one called interior systems (door panels, center consoles, dashboards, etc.) and the other seating. Faurecia has about 7000 engineers around world working on cabin products, said DeGrange. They work mainly in Europe (France and Germany), the U.S. (mainly in Detroit) and Asia (China, Korea, and Japan).
The Cockpit of the Future initiative, specifically aimed at autonomous driving and connected car technologies, is being worked on in one center in Europe close to Paris, with plans for openings in the U.S. (California) and another in China. “We have between 80 and 120 people involved in this effort, combining direct and indirect,” said DeGrange.
Faurecia already has staff in California, Cupertino specifically, because it is engineering the interior (seat components and the complete dashboard) of Tesla’s Model 3, which is planned for full autonomy in the future. The supplier hopes to build on this Tesla experience by opening a center nearby.
For the Cockpit of the Future, Faurecia is working “on a kind of progressive road map,” said DeGrange. “The challenge for what is already on the road today is how we are going to design for sharing.” This includes both car sharing and ride sharing.
“Today we put the value on the driver side, mainly the guys who paid for the car, so he has the best seats, infotainment, etc.,” DeGrange said. But with ride sharing, “the customer who pays for the ride is sitting on the rear seat, which is a little bit less comfortable with no features, no infotainment, and so the experience is not the best.” For car sharing, the “maintainability of the interior will need to be improved because you are going to increase the number of kilometers that car will do by day” compared to a private car.
Since car development takes about three years, we already know what a car of 2020 will look like, said DeGrange. And he does see three phases of the future roll-out of autonomous technology.
“Between 2021 and 2025, we’re going to have the rate of let’s say Level 3 and a small start with Level 4,” he said. “Between 2025 and 2030, we’re going to have the start of level 5 and a raise of Level 4. After 2030, we are going to have the rise of level 5. “The big question is for 2021 and after. For the level of autonomy increasing to Level 3, Level 4, “how are we going to find new positions, new adaptations of the cabin to value the different experience with current [vehicle] architectures.
“And you have the future challenge post 2025, when we’re going to optimize the experience of completely new architectures that will be launched at that time. With this approach we can have really different and exciting interiors with an experience that will be truly something different.”
However, DeGrange thinks the future autonomous driving use case will not be a homogeneous, one-size-fits-all for the world’s carmakers.
Challanges for AV interiors
Regardless of use case, the main challenges for engineering Faurecia cockpits for future highly automated driving, according to DeGrange, are related to safety, comfort, connectivity, and integration of artificial intelligence.
“A customer will not accept that safety on an autonomous driving [car] is less than in a normal car,” said DeGrange. This is one of the main reasons that Faurecia signed a strategic partnership with ZF. “We started working with the target to develop advanced safety for autonomous driving. With this partnership we are going to be able to deliver a solution that allows this dream to come true.”
Regarding comfort, Faurecia previously “designed our products to be comfortable in a driving position.” But “when you are in a nondriving position [in highly automated vehicles], you need to have the same comfort.” He said that an occupant reclining their backrest by 25-30 degrees or more, thinking it will be more comfortable, might actually decrease comfort because the seat was designed to be comfortable in a normal driving condition.
For new connectivity use cases, customers have come to expect the user experience of smartphones in cars.
“So we need to manage that; it’s clearly not acceptable to have a poor GPS system or infotainment system,” said Degrange. “UX design is a key challenge for the automobile [industry].” The last big question is how Faurecia is going to leverage artificial intelligence in its products. “The car will become a smart device, so how we’re going to integrate artificial intelligence to make every [new device] better than the previous one?” concluded DeGrange.