What is the catalyst for this change?
What we are seeing is that our clients are very busy trying to understand and master new areas. They become software companies. They also need to shift their focus from something that was the holy grail in the automobile, the internal combustion engine, to electric drives. The engine was where they differentiated themselves. Now they have so much work to do to conquer new areas that they allow companies like Yanfeng, who have the capacity to take on more responsibility, to start earlier in the development process and to put together more components. to create systems. They listen to what we have to say. They are interested in seeing our prototypes. Therefore, I think the time has come for us to drive this systems approach and really bring value to our customers so that they can focus more on these new areas.
How did the company deal with the chip shortage?
So far, we have been able to meet the volume demands of our customers. We provide what they need. However, we suffer from the same problem. The shortage is impacting our volume, forcing us to adjust the capacity of our factories. Overall, we don’t think this is a long-term threat to the business. I think there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe we’ll see it by the end of Q4 or Q1 2022.
Is Yanfeng interested in making his own chips?
We are not going to develop our own chips. What we have done, however, is develop our own ECUs (Electronic Control Units). We have also developed what we call our intelligent cabin controller. We did this because we recognize that there will be an increase in the electronics, features and functions that make up the in-car user experience. What is important for the end user is to have a useful and enjoyable in-car experience and to achieve this requires a choreography of all the features. It’s not just about on-off switches. It’s about how it all works together. To achieve this, we have developed our own intelligent cabin controller and, at the subsystem level, our own ECUs.
Yanfeng worked on ways to make the interior cleaner. Is this something in high demand in the COVID-19 world we currently live in?
First of all, I think the personal car is a very safe solution because it is a confined and controllable space. We started a long time ago with antimicrobial surfaces, using special coatings that kill up to 99% of germs. We have also developed solutions that purify the air using UV light. This is being implemented in vehicles as we speak. And we had fortuitous timing because several months before the start of the pandemic, we found a solution that cleans all of the badly affected areas from the inside using UV light from an overhead console. We had no idea the pandemic was coming, but once it started, this solution took off, generating great interest. Now we are looking at additional apps like a special box equipped with UV light that you can put your phone or keys or other things in to quickly clean them from germs.
Are any of these products already on the market?
An integrated solution typically takes around two years to get to market. So we are not there yet but we are very close. Therefore, I cannot speak for the first car brands that will release this UV disinfectant solution in their production vehicles.
When do you think we’ll see the first fully autonomous cars on the road and when do you think we’ll actually reach some level of mass production of these vehicles?
There are already fully autonomous vehicles on the road, so it won’t be that magical moment when on December 31, 2025, we will have self-driving cars driving around in a geo-fenced area. This is already happening. These are vehicles without a steering wheel. But when it comes to these accessible vehicles for you and me, I think towards the end of the decade we’re going to see a lot more fully automated vehicles. The forecast for the transition to the massive use of autonomous vehicles is between 2030 and 2035.
Have automakers put less emphasis on their autonomous vehicle projects?
Yes. Some of our customers slow down the autonomy a bit. The pandemic has forced them to rethink their investment strategies, as has the rapid switch to electrification. You can only spend your money once, so they had to make choices. However, some customers have not slowed down. If we look at recent vehicle introductions, especially in the high end segment, we see these higher scalable levels of automated driving being offered. Plus, companies that focus solely on autonomous driving like Waymo continue to step up. So, yeah, we were aware of some of those decisions to slow down, but I think it’s picking up.
At one of Yanfeng’s events a few years ago, I discovered your so-called “tech shy” features that are built into the dashboard or armrest, but when not needed, they just disappear. . They are just below the surface. What future for such features?
First of all, with all of this electronics, features, and functions working their way all the way in, there’s a real risk of user cognitive overload. We need to stop having so many physical buttons and find different ways to interact with the vehicle. But you don’t want all of these features in front of you when you don’t need them. That’s why shy tech is gaining in importance: it’s there when you need it, but it’s not in your face when you don’t need it. These solutions make sense as we move over the next five to ten years to a higher level of automated driving. But right now we’re still in a situation where the driver has to have their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road. You can’t have all of these switches hidden on a flat, even surface because the driver won’t know where to go with their fingers to use certain functions. So, these features cannot be completely timid. They cannot be completely hidden. There has to be a level of tactical guidance and feedback to make it work safely. But the trend is there for the interior to be a very quiet cocoon with a lot of features and functions that are only there when you need them.