‘Big opportunity for startups lies in products in India’: Detlev Reicheneder | Autocar Professional

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On the sidelines of the InnerCircle Roundtable sessions in Pune and Bengaluru, Detlev Reicheneder, Senior Director Business Strategy Design and Manufacturing, Autodesk spoke exclusively to Autocar Professional about the startup ecosystem in India, the evolution of design, Artificial Intelligence and additive manufacturing in the automobile industry.

Where does the opportunity for startups lie in the mobility ecosystem?

Long-established automotive manufacturers have the benefit of experience and adapting to market changes, while startups have an opportunity to start a fresh approach to transforming vehicles, customers’ experiences, and the underlying business of transportation. Startups tend to be more agile and can execute on their visions of serving customers in a different way. For instance, startups are exploring ways to go beyond the traditional business model of just selling a car to a customer and that being the biggest engagement in the relationship. They are looking for insights in data to pivot rapidly – revise their product, update their software – to improve the customer experience.

Having said that, to bring such innovative business models, a startup must know the problem it wants to solve, as well as the current situation. For instance, the rental electric-scooter concept in Europe struggled in its early stages. What was missing was a business model that incentivises customers to bring them back within a certain time. We finally saw startups doing that by offering discounts to customers if they dock the scooters back at the charging station.

This business model creates value for the entire ecosystem, and startups can leverage IoT data to track the scooter, its state-of-charge, and therefore, derive insights that aid operations. But it all starts with the problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, startups must focus on the product and differentiate it with a unique business model, manufacture the product. For instance, Chinese startup PIX Moving is 3D printing an entire car body, as it aims to become the only company which can produce a unique product for every customer. While this is quite an extreme example, it shows just how agile a company can be through technology.

Are companies in India leveraging technology to become agile and flexible?

Some of our startup customers in Bengaluru are leveraging modern technologies to become agile. There are electric motorcycle companies that are adopting a for-the-rider, by-the-rider approach, and are using innovative tools. Therefore, we are increasingly seeing companies change their strategies away from traditional methodologies towards more flexible tools using the cloud, and are also using iPhones, and running applications on mobile devices, rather than sticking with tools that require intensive resource planning and training. Getting a new employee up to speed to a process is one of the biggest challenges for most companies.

How is design evolving in automotive and how will Artificial Intelligence shape its future?

Design is becoming increasingly important, and while design was a key differentiator in the past, it is becoming even more important with the advent of EVs. Companies are searching for their own design languages, and DNAs, while already being under the pressure of being faster to the market before others. Therefore, speed, agility, and precision are the key ingredients to get quicker to the next level of design which appeals to customers.

It is here that technology is emerging as an extension of what is being created by the designers, and stylists, and we must automate processes to help them spend less time on non-value-add tasks, allowing them to rather explore more models at the same time by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to get more ideas. AI algorithms are extending their bandwidths and capabilities, and sparking imagination about more possibilities.

An AI engine learns from existing data, and while AI can help accelerate the process, it cannot innovate by itself, not in the predictable future. Therefore, it is about augmenting the engineer, stylist, and the designer, to find new solutions. It is about asking the right question and teaching the AI engine in the right way.

Going forward, we will see more AI workflows coming in, not as a replacement to the human resource, but in a supporting function, to reduce repetitive tasks, and speed up the overall process. We have several technologies like generative design which allow engineers or designers to just set constraints, and let the algorithm in the cloud explore options. This is allowing various companies to reinvent a product and choose the right option.

Is additive manufacturing going to become mainstream in the future?

Additive manufacturing is already mainstream in several industries, and we see startups with different business models offering unique services to their customers. For instance, there is a startup which scans the customer’s hands, and produces a steering wheel that is tailor-made for every individual customer. Now, this qualifies as differentiation, and eventually, it is all about differentiation and business models. In the future, we are likely to see an increasing number of purpose-built mobility solutions, which will command lower volumes, and therefore, call for different manufacturing technologies.

What roles do solutions like cloud, AR and VR play in enabling automotive companies in their business?

Cloud is simply an enabler that allows us to build a platform and our customers to build solutions on top of it. Moreover, cloud solves the industry’s problem of collaboration, which, today, using traditional tools, is error prone, and leads to severe miscommunication and misunderstandings. The likelihood of making mistakes, and carrying out redundant work reduces significantly if two teams are accessing the same data in real time. True and effective collaboration is only possible if everyone works on the same data set, and model. Therefore, cloud and platform are the future for engineering and technology development by offering tremendous value to our design and make customers.

Regarding Augmented Reality (AR), we saw vehicle designers and stylists particularly taking to the technology to conduct design reviews remotely during the pandemic. Virtual Reality (VR) and AR capabilities allow a distributed workforce to have the same view of a real-sized model in the digital world, thereby enabling teams to be fast and agile. Several of our customers have, therefore, heavily invested into these technologies after the workforce moved fully remote during the pandemic, and are changing the way they make decisions. They are speeding up their decision-making processes. For instance, the US-based EV maker Rivian, an Autodesk customer, has saved more than USD 1 million in product development costs each year and reduced usage of materials like clay by 2.5 tonnes for each vehicle design.

Do you see India having the potential to emerge as an innovation hub of the world?

India is on the edge of making the decision of whether to be the manufacturing hub of the world, or to extend the opportunity and become an innovator, and take up engineering as well as complete vertical integration. I would say the potential is here, and if Indian companies leverage technology to drive digital transformation, and think differently compared to what was done in the past, there is a huge opportunity ahead. We are seeing several startups already on this journey, and that is why we are continuing to invest in the country.

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