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The Essentials of the New Car Development Process + Free V-Model

Martin Peter
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This article gives an overview of the complete vehicle development process (new car development process) used at Magna, with particular emphasis placed on the concept phase. It also showcases a few rules of thumb for new entrants to ensure the project runs smoothly, including questions about design, material requirements, regulations, and especially the value of virtual testing and validation tools.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
> The basic model of new car development process
> How do you ensure a smooth project process as well as a vehicle development process?
> What's next?

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The main milestones of future complete vehicle development processes (new car development processes) and production volumes are determined by the time an automotive project enters the concept phase. At this point the new entrant should have an initial idea of the features, functions, and components of the vehicle.

Investors should be firmly on board and ideally, the new entrant has also secured the support of an experienced partner to aid them in planning, developing, and manufacturing their vehicle. Additionally, they should have also decided on whether they intend to build a new factory from the ground up (aka greenfield) or if they plan to use an existing facility (aka brownfield).

The Essentials of the New Car Development Process-1

THE BASIC MODEL OF A NEW CAR DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

A vehicle project is based on a V-model with the project milestones in a horizontal line and the product specification and validation in a vertical layer. The left-hand side of the V describes the requirement and specification process. Based on the customer requirements, the functional and technical specifications of the complete vehicle, and its systems and components are defined.

The right-hand side of the V is marked by the validation and test process. The validated components are integrated - firstly into systems and later into the complete vehicle - before it is finally approved. Simply put, during the vehicle development process, the automotive concept is firstly broken down into systems and components and then re-integrated into a complete vehicle.

V-Model Magna

Image: The basic V-model of a vehicle project plan.

The concept phase includes the upper left segment of the V-model. The goal of the concept phase is to verify the key technical and economic targets as well as the overall time frame of the project.

This phase starts with the creation of the Customer Market Profile (CMP). With the CMP created, the target market and benchmark vehicles defined, the first complete vehicle targets can be established with the first set of measurable metrics.1

Once the complete vehicle targets are clear, they are further broken down into system-level targets. This process is marked by intense cooperation between interdisciplinary teams, as features all overlap into multiple systems and changes in one area often impact a multitude of other areas.

Two key documents are created within the concept phase: the product requirement specification book(s), which show the tasks and resources for system or component suppliers, and an initial bill of materials (BOM), which lists all resources needed to calculate the business plan for the complete vehicle.

Both documents will be continuously detailed and updated throughout this development phase as the vehicle concept becomes more sophisticated.

With the requirements, specifications and the rough BOM at hand, the vehicle targets can be agreed upon in the target agreement (TA). Once the TA has been reached, the set requirements and metrics are definitive and serve as the basis for the upcoming development phase.

In addition, the business case is updated based on the technical input with focus on the investments (tooling, plant, supplier development cost, …).

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HOW DO YOU ENSURE A SMOOTH PROJECT PROCESS AS WELL AS A VEHICLE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS?

Several challenging situations can occur during the concept phase. The following five strategies will help in navigating the concept phase.

1. Assume That Your Bom Needs Re-Adjustments

The bill of materials is one of the most common pitfalls for new entrants. The initial BOM is devised during the concept phase, and thus based on estimations. Therefore, it will be incomplete in some segments. As the project progresses, the BOM will thus require adjustments to the initial estimates or the addition of parts missing in the original draft. Even minor alterations to the project can change the calculated cost for the business plan. Therefore, new entrants should monitor changes during the concept phase constantly and ensure a clear decision-making process.

2. Keep Design and Engineering of Your Vehicle Development Process in Balance

The main point of interaction in vehicle development usually forms between the technical features of a vehicle and its design and styling concept. Technical requirements sometimes limit the creative freedom, whereas design choices demand compromises from the technical architecture. Close cooperation and mutual understanding between the technical teams and stylists helps to find the best balance.2

3. Use Simulation and Virtual Testing

It is important to already start the validation of the vehicle concept in a very early stage of project development to assess whether the vehicle targets can be accomplished. This is achieved with virtual technologies in the testing and validation processes.

By using virtual development methods, the time-to-market and development cost can be optimized. Thanks to virtual tools and simulation methods, the prediction quality of digital prototypes is very advanced. As such, a high level of design maturity can be achieved, even in this early project phase.

For example, with vehicle safety there are numerous requirements and standards – from legal requirements and consumer ratings such as NCAP and IIHS - to market and technology trends such as new electric platforms and automated driving. This may lead to new challenges in passive safety and crash worthiness.

Body construction meets those demands with various material combinations and hybrid joining technologies. For this, high prediction quality and efficiency of simulation methods are very important. However, achieving both factors require constant comparison between simulation and measurements.

Virtual tools can facilitate this process considerably. Small joining elements are first tested physically before the results of these tests are implemented into a complete vehicle simulation. This way, results can be obtained more easily and quickly and with higher accuracy. Correct interpretation of the results is most important for successful simulation, perhaps more than the right software tools.

4. Inform Yourself about Relevant Regulations in Terms of a New Car Development Process

The vehicle industry consists of a myriad of different regulations for both production sites and the vehicles themselves. Not only do the certificates for quality and security differ depending on the region, but also the way in which they are controlled.

For example, ensuring quality standards in the U.S. is largely managed by the OEMs themselves and will be occasionally checked by officials, whereas in Europe, the validation process requires OEMs to send in documents for inspection and approval by the inspection authority. The regional approach to standards and regulations could also be a factor in deciding on a particular location.

Regardless of the final decision, the regulatory framework of the automotive world should be considered as early as possible to avoid last-minute changes.

5. Make Sure That Your Schedule is Both Consistent and Flexible

It is one thing to set up a vehicle project plan, but an entirely different thing to bring it into a scheduling framework. Creating a schedule requires a deep understanding of the entire vehicle development and manufacturing process to determine how the individual tasks should be organized in the most efficient way.

Projects as large as vehicle development will naturally be subjected to numerous delays along the way, and there are many factors a manufacturer cannot control. Therefore, the most important aspect of a schedule is not necessarily how well it can predict certain delays, but rather how it can be adapted to delays without major setbacks. Such adaptations also require quick decision-making and close monitoring.

WHAT’S NEXT?

To summarize, a vehicle development process as well as a strategy can be best captured using a V-model. This model is split into a requirement and specification phase in which customer requirements are specified into functional and technical targets, and a validation and testing phase where the developed components are integrated into the complete vehicle.

The concept phase encompasses the upper left segment of this V-model. It starts with creating a customer market profile from which benchmark vehicles and vehicle targets are derived. Once those targets have been further specified and validated, they are set in a target agreement. Issues such as the vehicle BOM, the alignment between engineering and styling, regulatory standards, and especially virtual testing require close monitoring to ensure a smooth process.

As the concept phase progresses, the automotive vision will gradually develop into a complete vehicle. Naturally, this also means that its environment – facilities, supply network, etc. – must also grow accordingly. During this phase, questions regarding the facilities’ manufacturing and organizational processes should be outlined in full detail. The search for suppliers also begins during this phase. However, all of these topics will be discussed further in the upcoming articles.

1: See also: “How to Define Your Vehicle Performance Targets”
2: See also: “Automotive Design & Styling vs. Technical Realities”

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Martin Peter

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