“One of the key points as we address cyber security, is I don’t think it is possible to say we can completely stop hacking. The intent here is to be able to monitor, track and minimise the offence.” Swamy Kotagiri

“One of the key points as we address cyber security, is I don’t think it is possible to say we can completely stop hacking. The intent here is to be able to monitor, track and minimise the offence.” Swamy Kotagiri

Magna International develops and manufactures an array of automotive systems, assemblies, modules and components, as well as being the world's largest brand-independent assembler of complete vehicles. Matthew Beecham caught up with Swamy Kotagiri, Chief Technology Officer, Magna International to learn more about the supplier's technologies, from ADAS to the use of certain materials for lightweighting.

There is a lot a speculation about the possible effects of Apple and Google entering the automotive space in some way. What is your view on that and how things could take shape?

With the trend in ADAS or autonomous driving, one of the key things is that software is playing or will continue to play a significant role. So as we talk about the car as a platform, and all the data that's coming and generated from within the car, and also the interaction of the data from outside the car, it provides so many services. I think the car used to have a five- or six-year cycle, and maybe in some cases used to have a mid-cycle enhancement of certain systems, but I think the new paradigm here is that people are expecting the features to be continuously updated, which is a lot in terms of software and so on. The reason I'm saying that, you will see a lot more working together, collaborative integration of different industries, which is software, hardware, and service providers, in addition to the existing automotive industry's base.

People talk about Apple and Google because they are in the service industry and they are providing the software services in a different field today, and therefore are in the discussion about all the other players who are good at what they're doing. It remains to be seen obviously how it's going to impact the automotive industry. I do believe that as the general expectation of people in terms of the product, which is the car, and what they expect from it changes, there will be other people who are going to start having a significant impact on the industry.

Presumably, Magna is in a good position to manufacture vehicles for the likes of Apple or Google should they enter the auto market?

With our Magna Steyr organisation we have the capability and a lot of experience with contract manufacturing vehicles, so we work with OEMs in terms of the specification and integration and so on. That's obviously a model that we have been working with for a long time, it remains an important part of our business, and we believe it's going to be a strategic advantage for us going forward. With the breadth of knowledge that we have in complete systems, whether it's body structure, whether it's seats, whether it's drive line, whether it's closures and mirrors, if you look at it we have a deep knowledge of being able to engineer and produce based on customer specifications, and from our Magna Steyr operation we have the integration capability in contract manufacturing vehicles. We believe this puts us at an advantage depending on how the market moves forward.

Some OEMs believe self-driving cars could be available within a few years. I guess they will be very expensive initially. On that basis, could we see them on campuses and fleets initially until the cost comes down?

I think autonomous driving is such a broad topic. You have to look at it from the concept of level 3, level 4 and level 5. If you look at it in terms of the technologies that could allow the car to be driven autonomously for extended periods of time, the technology is there but do we have the regulatory and legislative hurdles crossed? Absolutely not! So I think when we try to answer the question, will we have a lot of autonomous driving cars? Again, when I say autonomous we're talking at the level where the decision-making is with the car, not with the person, and we are far away.

Even if you get the technology to a point where it can proliferate into significant numbers, to have a turnover of the entire fleet that is existing is still a long way off, because you need to have connectivity in terms of car to car, a transition step, even if you have the technology all of them, but you still have cars that are there today. So I think it's a very long process for that transition to happen. If you're talking of level 3, level 4 features available to make driving comfortable and convenient and safer, for sure it's coming, coming at a very fast pace. If you are talking about somebody sitting and solving a crossword puzzle and not driving, I think it's quite a distance away.

Tomorrow, we will be testing Magna's AWD capabilities on ice and snow. Self-driving cars have appeal but would the consumer feel safe being driven in such conditions? 

I think you bring a very good point. I think there needs to be a paradigm shift and acceptance by people on some of these features. You remember the braking systems that came in and when you stepped on a brake and it would just get a pulsing feeling for ABS. It took us so long to get used to that fact. So it just takes time for people to accept a lot of these things, and I think it is not as easy.

I think this also relates to the previous question: if you're talking of some of these features being applied in a contained atmosphere where the speeds are limited and where it's very regulated, yes there it could be possible, and I think that's where it will start as you start gathering a lot more information and so on. So you have a campus or you have a resort area where you are not allowing the non-connected conventional cars going around and it's only this type of vehicles.

Cyber security is a major concern these days. How is Magna addressing that?

One of the key points as we address cyber security, is I don't think it is possible to say we can completely stop hacking. The intent here is to be able to monitor, track and minimise the offence so that if a system is being attacked and you know that one system has been attacked and here is the loophole, and if you are able to stop, monitor that, figure out the solution and transmit that to the rest of the fleet so the rest of the fleet is safe, that is the answer. You cannot build a firewall and say, here are all the known things so I'm going to stop all of this, because the bad guys are not sitting there idly either, they're trying to come up with other ways to hack. So it's not a passive firewall system, I think it's an active monitoring and prevention system. So that's what you'll see in the Magna product demonstration.

Despite the cost, what do you see as the most promising applications for carbon fibre in vehicle manufacture?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's Global light vehicle safety systems market- forecasts to 2030