Dr. Oliver Seifert, Vice President Electrics/Electronics Development at Porsche AG, and Dirk Lappe, Managing Director of Porsche Engineering are two essential team member’s in Porsche’s electronic (E/E) team.
Both are self confessed ‘car freaks who also love to program’. They talk to us openly and honestly about the future of E/E development within Porsche.
What are the central trends in E/E development, and what are the challenges?
Oliver Seifert: The first trend is the further development of the battery electric vehicle, driven by the requirements of legislation and the markets— but also by our own claim at Porsche to make electric driving even more attractive, for example in terms of range and charging performance. The second trend is the seamless integration of the vehicle into the customer’s digital ecosystem. The resulting challenges affect the development processes of the E/E system architecture in particular. This is because the demands placed on us are changing very dynamically. We must optimise our processes so that we can react quickly to new market needs. It is therefore a combination of new tasks and short timeframes that will shape future developments.
What will the E/E architecture of the future look like?
Dirk Lappe: In the practical implementation of the E/E architecture, we will have to comply with strict legal requirements in the automotive sector, for example with regard to cyber security. This gives us a clear framework for designing future system architectures. Compared to consumer electronics products, we therefore face completely different tasks. Another point is product life. A smartphone is considered obsolete after six years at the latest, at which point software updates for the operating system are no longer offered.
When we bring a vehicle onto the market, it must still be capable of being updated after ten or 15 years. The E/E development has the important cross-sectional task of keeping the vehicle’s functions safe and running throughout the vehicle’s service life.
To what extent do functions and software characterise the Porsche of the future?
Seifert: Software is already the backbone of our vehicles today. No modern car can drive without bits and bytes. It’s this software that gives us the opportunity to design Porsche-specific vehicle characteristics that would previously have been impossible or difficult to implement via mechanics. One example is the matrix light, which has turned yesterday’s simple headlights into a modern assistance system. In the past, headlights were only used to illuminate the road. Today’s matrix system does the same, but controls the light intensity so intelligently that oncoming traffic is not dazzled and disturbing reflections from road signs at the edge of the road are avoided. And if a person is standing at the side of the road, the matrix light illuminates this area in particular to draw attention to the potential hazard situation. We create the preconditions for integrating new features into the vehicle through the underlying E/E architecture. Everything is designed with the future in mind, so that we can react to requirements that we cannot foresee today.
What does Porsche Engineering do in the area of function and software development?
Lappe: We see ourselves as a complete vehicle developer that implements new functions holistically, including the software. This is a big difference to competitors who can only create software and have no know-how about vehicle development. Software gives us the opportunity to optimally implement the potential of a hardware component. For example, an air suspension system can be applied with a standard set-up, or you can take advantage of the scope for design and use the same hardware to create a chassis that glides over potholes in a highly comfortable manner and, at the touch of a button, offers dynamic cornering ability typical of a sports car. We are car freaks who also love to program.
How does the E/E collaboration between Porsche and Porsche Engineering work?
Seifert: Porsche Engineering is a constant in our E/E development. I assume that this collaboration will be much more intensive in the coming years. This is particularly true for developments in the future fields of connectivity and e-mobility. The nice thing about Porsche Engineering is that the engineers there can do both: software and cars.
Lappe: One of our most important efforts in recent years and decades has been to support the development of E/E competence within Porsche AG. The result is a symbiosis that continues to this day. Today we work as a strategic partner on larger software scopes and other E/E topics.
How are Porsche and Porsche Engineering dealing with the transformation in automotive development?
Lappe: The importance of software and the expertise to develop it grows with the transformation. We have set up a change process to integrate experts from the classic trades more closely into the software development area. We have a large number of engineers with 20 or more years of professional experience on board who are prepared to leave their original fields of work and contribute to the further development of our software capability. The employees are particularly valuable to the company after the transformation, as they bring both mechanical and electronic understanding to the function development discipline.
Seifert: It is important to actively pursue a transformation process and not to wait until you are forced to do so by external factors. We don’t want to chase the proverbial carrot, but rather lead the race. And as you know, we feel very comfortable on the race track. However, we do not have the aspiration to follow every trend as a matter of course. You always need a stable basis as the starting point for a successful transformation into new worlds of working, processes, and products. And we must never forget that there are people behind every transformation. We see ourselves as one family and make sure that we do not overburden our employees, but give them the necessary support.
What role does sustainability play in the E/E development of the future?
Seifert: A very big role. We pursue the idea of sustainability throughout the entire value chain. In component development, we take these requirements into account, for example, in material selection and component design. But with our E/E architecture and our functions, we also contribute to sustainability in terms of vehicle operation. For example, we design the system so that the available energy in the vehicle is always used as efficiently as possible. Another point is to ensure that the vehicles in the field last as long as possible. Our flexible electronics architecture can be upgraded to the latest state of the art over the years, so that customers can and want to use their vehicles for a long time.
Is there a Porsche feature that you would not digitalise or electrify?
Seifert: The design of our vehicles is an emotional experience and certainly something that cannot be digitalised per se. Otherwise, there are no limits to one’s imagination. However, it is important that the result feels typical for Porsche; otherwise digitalisation makes no sense. We have already shown how typical Porsche electrification works in a variety of areas: whether it’s steering, brakes, powertrain units or other systems, regardless of the model series. And I can only recommend it to anyone who has not yet experienced these characteristics themselves: Try them out in the Porsche Taycan!
Lappe: We will not be able to replace humans with computers in the development process. We need the creativity of our engineers to improve individual functions and develop new features. This is an innovation process that can never be digitalised.