Dr. Shaoshan Liu is the founder/CEO of PerceptIn, Autonomous Mobile Clinics project lead at BeyonCa and Asia Chair of IEEE Entrepreneurship.
Coming from a purely technological background, I have spent the past decade developing autonomous driving technologies. More than one year ago, I embarked on an exciting new journey of making intelligent electric vehicles (IEVs), of which autonomous driving is only one component.
After deep diving into the car-making process for a while, I have been awed by the complexity of car engineering, challenged by the cultural clash of traditional car-making and internet-style, fast-paced innovations, touched by the everlasting beauty of car designs and inspired by the wide spectrum of usage scenarios for intelligent electric vehicles.
At the very beginning of 2023, I had an epiphany, realizing that we have come to the age of scenario-driven car making, such that IEVs should serve a very clear and detailed customer need. With the sole mission of fulfilling this need, we should then gradually unfold the complexity of car making. I call this new process scenario-driven car making. Hence, I have made a 2023 New Year’s resolution to write a series of articles detailing my understanding of scenario-driven car making. In this opening article, I attempt to explain the concept of scenario-driven car making.
As discussed in my previous article, the IEV industry is evolving through three stages of development: electrification, intelligence and ecosystem. After more than one decade of development, various IEV companies, such as Tesla, NIO and XPeng, have laid a very good foundation in electrification and intelligence, and it will be extremely challenging for latecomers to challenge their established positions in those areas. Thus, it will be a smart move for any new IEV company to rely on the existing supply chain for electrification and intelligence but focus on proprietary technologies to enable a few usage scenarios.
In a way, an IEV is similar to a smartphone. Some people use their phones mainly for work purposes, some use their phones mainly for entertainment and some use their phones as health monitors. I predict that the IEV industry will evolve similarly, and usage will extend beyond mobility.
I have already observed some examples of scenario-driven car making in the IEV industry. China’s Li Auto has developed a series of “soccer mom” cars to meet the needs of picking up children, taking a family trip and other family-oriented usage scenarios. The key features of Li Auto’s IEVs include a spacious interior environment and large screens for entertainment. Canoo, a U.S.-based IEV company, develops “lifestyle” vehicles, specifically targeting camping usage scenarios. BeyonCa (with which I have done projects), a newcomer in the IEV space, focuses on building luxury vehicles targeting in-car health monitoring. HiPhi, another Chinese IEV brand, develops robot cars for customers to program and interact with, such that a user can make the car dance or play a musical show.
As more and more scenario-driven IEVs come to market, we need to develop an innovative car-making process to develop vehicles for specific usage scenarios instead of infusing new usage scenarios with existing platforms. The traditional car-making process is a technology-driven, bottom-up process, in which automotive engineers define the key parameters of the chassis platform, including dimensions, mass, torque, gear ratios and aerodynamic drag forces, and then based on this platform, designers derive various models for different customer groups. On top of these models, product managers elaborate on usage scenarios.
Scenario-driven car making, in contrast, is a top-down process in which the usage scenarios are defined first, then the car’s exterior and interior designs are defined surrounding the usage scenarios. Finally, different technologies, such as in-cabin intelligence, autonomous driving and chassis, are scouted from the technology supply chain to empower the usage scenarios.
What makes the top-down scenario-driven car-making process possible is the emergence of modular vehicle engineering, exemplified by technologies such as skateboard chassis and centralized electrical/electronic (E/E) architectures. These standardized modules greatly reduce the cost and development time of vehicle engineering. More importantly, these standardized modules provide well-defined interfaces and abstractions for IEV original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build cars for specific usage scenarios, similar to how our kids can unlock their imagination using LEGO building blocks.
However, the conversion from a traditional car-making process to a scenario-driven car-making process is no easy task. In the rest of this series, I will discuss key enabling technologies, including skateboard chassis, centralized E/E architectures and an in-car metaverse. I will explore a few new usage scenarios such as in-car health monitoring and programming your IEVs. I will discuss the exterior and interior design process for scenario-driven car making. I will dive deep into the challenge of project management, especially the cultural clash of traditional car making and internet-style, fast-paced innovations. Last but not least, I will review innovative branding, marketing and customer outreach approaches for scenario-driven IEVs.