Conti sees trend to faster product development

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Snow: “Real trends such as digitalization and demographics are at the forefront of disruption.” Photo credit: Greg Horvath

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The breakneck speed at which self-driving and connected-car technology is evolving is forcing the industry to change how products will be developed, says Tamara Snow, head of systems and technology for Continental North America’s interiors division.

“New technology is coming at a faster and faster rate, and for this reason we need to be able to harness disruption and change what we innovate and how we innovate,” Snow told an audience Monday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars.

She said “agile” product development is crucial to ensuring companies stay competitive as the vehicle morphs from manual to self-driving.

“There are many factors to agile development,” Snow said. “Part of those would be things like: Are our teams set up in the organization to be flexible? Are we ready for shorter release cycles? And if so, do we have shorter approval cycles to help us with those new release cycles? Are we balancing agility and risk management?

“These are some of the things we have to think about in order to move faster with the pace of change.”

Snow said change is being driven by government regulations and by consumer demand and that suppliers have to navigate the gap between the two, looking for opportunities to develop new products.

“Real trends such as digitalization and demographics are at the forefront of disruption. But there are other factors that are influencing them. Society and technology can push and pull change in different directions at faster rates,” Snow said. “Government can drive change from the top down, while consumers can demand it from the bottom up. Each of these factors influences the other, creating a kind of wave effect.

“We have to be able to identify opportunities.”

Snow said companies should be open to joint ventures, collaborations and partnerships and view these business relationships as a chance to move faster than developing technologies in-house.

One early product that shows Continental’s evolving approach to product development is its Integrated Cockpit System, which debuted last fall at the Frankfurt auto show.

It is a fully configurable driver information system that spans the width of the vehicle and places information in front of the driver on fully reconfigurable screens. Sideview mirrors are eliminated and those views are projected onto screens in the display. Without looking away from the road, the driver can control the presentation of information on screens.

Snow said new technologies won’t alienate drivers.

“We’re going to be able to get these two technologies to adapt to humans,” she said, “rather than for humans to adapt to the technology.”

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