The car's the star...

April 08, 2015 // By Iconic Insights: in conversation with Hanns Windele
Group Engineering Director at Jaguar Land Rover, Wolfgang Ziebart discusses the impact of the fast-moving world of electronics on the more sedate environment of automotive manufacture…

Hanns Windele: What were your first impressions of the UK industry compared with working in Germany?

Wolfgang Ziebart: The automotive industry is very much globalised. But you also have to adapt to local customs. That’s how it is here at Jaguar Land Rover. It is a very international company and we have a lot of very good people from all over Europe.

The company has grown significantly and it’s not always possible to recruit people locally. Fortunately, there are areas in Europe where the automotive industry is struggling, which means that we can get extremely good people from those markets.

HW: What do you think is the BMW legacy at JLR today?

WZ: Land Rover, even under BMW, was a very profitable business. At the time however, Rover Cars was the big area for losses, and this basically eclipsed all the good parts of the business that we had. The media tended to focus mainly on the Rover Cars side of the business and the issues that came with that. The outside perception was that of a loss-making business.

HW: Do you have any key lessons from that period in the evolution of the company?

WZ: When I arrived at JLR I wasn't coming to a completely alien environment. There were two tasks. First was to foster a different structure, which involved converting from a function-driven system to a more project-related environment. It was once about moving a car horizontally through the company where all the functions had to co-operate.

Now we have co-located everyone who works on a project, regardless of whether they work on body, chassis, engineering or manufacturing. This has made a huge impact in the way we work and it is also more fun.

The second impact is technology. Having been in the semiconductor industry for quite some time and seen the pace it operates at, I see the automotive space as a great environment to push technology. We have made significant advances to put JLR on the same level as our premium German competitors, if not ahead.

HW: The choice criteria when it comes to selecting a car are different from what they were in the past. It was once engines and aesthetics, but today a key factor is of course the electronics. Is JLR part of this trend?

WZ: I recently read a study suggesting as many as 40% of us would switch car brand for better technology. Nobody would consider switching brand because there was better functionality in the trip computer. But today in Europe 8% would switch if there were a better infotainment offering. In China this figure rises to 40%. So this is very important, particularly in the big luxury markets. Today, you cannot sell a car on its interior wood and leather. It must have the latest technology, otherwise you are simply not going to be considered.

HW: How has JLR taken up this functionality challenge?

WZ: The cars that JLR produce today are state-of-the-art. But, state-of-the-art is not a stable status. In the infotainment area especially it is continually moving and it is moving fast. But in the world of entertainment the challenge for the automotive industry is not actually in the technology itself, because that is driven by the smartphone industry. It is more that there are two totally different business models that have come together.

The smartphone and automotive industries have collided. The car industry is stable and long-term minded with a start-to-finish product cycle for an electronic system of maybe three years. And we all know what can happen in three years, because we all know Moore's Law.

Within 36 months this will have come into effect twice, meaning that you have four times the number of transistors in a system than what you started out. Even if you start with the next-generation technology, by the time you've got the product to market you are already late. With the smartphone, functionality is moving into new apps, and this is a world that changes by the day.