In the third and final blog post of the series, Gentherm CTO Matt Fisch tells Proco Mobility about the big trends shaping the automotive industry, the challenges they face and why great talent is essential for keeping pace with innovation.
For more than a century the automobile industry has been a magnet for innovation. But as with many sectors, the pace of technological progress has shifted up a gear in recent years.
Electrification, connectivity, autonomous driving and shared mobility are the main trends that Matt Fisch, believes will shape the industry over the next decade. Each of these trends will have knock-on consequences. For example, the increasing range and performance of electric vehicles (EVs) will disrupt the idea of centralised heating and cooling in vehicle, says Fisch. And as software becomes more integrated into the design and development of automobiles, intelligent vehicles will be able to tailor preferences to passengers automatically.
This will also bring with it a demand for increased comfort and convenience, as well as a focus on health and wellness. For Gentherm, which created the first thermoelectrically heated and cooled seat system for the automotive industry, these advances spell opportunity.
Just as many of our children today don’t need to know how to operate a rotary dial telephone from the 1980s, automobile occupants will no longer have to fumble with temperature and fan settings to be comfortableMatt Fisch, CTO
The Michigan, US-headquartered company is developing system solutions and software that cater to the changing needs associated with the EV market. It’s not hypothetical – all its solutions are based on technology that already exists today. For example, its ClimateSenseTM solution provides personalised thermal comfort in one intelligent, energy efficient and integrated system.
Staying with EVs, Gentherm is turning to tech to address another concern – range anxiety. One current barrier to EV adoption is the time it takes to recharge, which can range from as little as 30 minutes to 12 hours and beyond – a far cry from the minutes spent at a petrol pump.
Matching this speed requires a massive energy transfer in a very short period of time. This in turn generates a large amount of heat, says Fisch. To counter this, Gentherm has created a range of battery performance solutions that are designed to help maintain consistent performance and maximise charging capacity.
An automobile is the sum of its parts, and those parts are made by an ever-growing number of suppliers. While such specialisation results in a better final product, the sheer number of “loosely coupled” sub-systems in a vehicle make it increasingly challenging to ensure all the parts work in harmony. Or, as Fisch puts it, automobile OEMs “must provide massive amounts of development and ‘human glue’ to allow the systems of hundreds of suppliers to work together to deliver the desired experience, safety, and performance”.
The challenge is made more difficult by the growing complexity of automobile sub-systems. One way to overcome this, says Fisch, is to think like application developers for consumer devices, providing “software libraries” in the same way as a smart phone or tablet. Gentherm is already preparing for this by building APIs – a software interface – for its climate management solutions that will bring consistency across multiple vehicle lines.
“This will greatly reduce the amount of integration effort and cost that must be performed by our customers,” says Fisch.
Widening the talent pool
Overcoming challenges requires the brightest talent. But as the automobile sector has increasingly overlapped with other digital industries, competition for skilled workers has become fiercer. According to Fisch, the talent pool needs to grow from “non-traditional sources”. This includes OEMs and suppliers being open to hiring talent without prior automotive experience.
“This is an especially significant challenge for companies that haven’t traditionally played in the areas of digital technology,” explains Fisch. “Top technical talent likes to be part of a winning team with a compelling vision – that is poised to contribute something profound to the industry, society and the environment.”
Gentherm’s work in the field of EV energy saving has helped make it an attractive place for top talent and leadership. The company also has an AGILE deployment execution process, which draws from the various specialities of employees who are “hungry to learn new things”. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant reapproaching the way employees carry out their work. Over the past year Gentherm’s manufacturing and office locations have adopted its Safe Work Playbook, while non-manufacturing teams have adopted remote working.
“I have been impressed with our rapid transition to remote work and the laser focus of meeting our customer’s needs,” says Fisch. “We are learning new ways to collaborate, and I believe this has helped us maintain a competitive advantage in delivering solutions to our customers.” Fisch believes that the tragic impact of Covid-19 and the disruption it has caused means it won’t be business as usual for the automobile sector and beyond. “This leads to profound changes in our daily needs and behaviours, which in turn creates opportunities for technology to improve our everyday lives,” he says.
Reflecting on 2020 – and looking beyond 2021
For Fisch, the past year has underscored the importance of the little things in life, such as spending more time with the family. He believes that technology can help us have more of these moments, with crowdsourced services such as Instacart just one example.
Beyond the rapid transformation in the automobile industry, Fisch believes that augmented reality and ecommerce are the biggest technologies to watch out for. And often, these new technologies end up changing the little things as much as the big things.
“We have a busy ice cream stand right up the street that broke a 30-plus year revenue record in 2020 thanks in part to the adoption of mobile payment technology that I helped to create a few years back,” says Fisch.
“Being part of Gentherm has me completely jazzed about the influential role we will play in the broader adoption of EVs in the coming decade!”
We’d like to thank Matt for providing valuable insight into his evolving mandate at Gentherm, it’s clear that innovation and transformational change are at the core of his role.
The three articles in this series are: