This month’s management briefing considers the latest developments in automotive interiors. In this instalment, we include questions to Harman about its new product for BMW , and take a look at global HVAC shares. Exclusive extracts are provided from our QUBE intelligence services.

Changing dashboards…

The fascia (or dashboard) and the instrument cluster together form the instrument panel. The instrument panel is a complex system of coverings, foams, plastics and metals designed to house various components and act as a safety device for the vehicle occupants. Instrument panels are usually made of injection moulded thermoplastics.

The area directly in front of the driver and front-seat passenger is commonly referred to as the cockpit. It is an area that continues to expand. A cockpit is a combination made out of an instrument panel and a number of sub-modules such as wiring and electronic devices, instruments, car audio and information/communication, heating and climate systems.

The number of instruments has increased over the years as vehicles have become more complex and the instruments themselves have become cheaper. Few cars in the 1960s had a tachometer but it is now almost a universal fitting. Similarly, legislation has now made the use of tachographs obligatory in trucks. The big increase, however, has been in event-controlled indications, such as lights which actuate to show warnings for indicators, low oil pressure and high lighting beam. A typical car now would have two large instruments showing speed and engine revolutions plus two smaller instruments showing engine temperature and fuel gauge. All other instruments are either incorporated in the larger instruments (odometer and trip meter) or separated from the main cluster and displayed as event warnings.

According to Bosch , the digital instruments fitted up to the 1990s displayed information using vacuum fluorescence display technology and, later, liquid crystal technology, but they have now largely disappeared. Instead, conventional analogue needle instruments are used in combination with displays. At the same time, there is an increase in the size, resolution and colour representation of the displays. We define the ‘instrument cluster’ as that part of the instrument panel – typically set directly in front of the driver – showing speed and engine revolutions plus two smaller instruments showing engine temperature and fuel gauge. This cluster may also incorporate odometer and trip meter and a variety of other information processed via an ‘on-board computer’.

Although there can be no doubt that drivers of the future will be better informed with a raft of new instrumentation, there is some concern as to whether their instrument panels will be a safe place to deliver the information.


We asked Harman…

Harman recently announced a project with BMW to pioneer some novel infotainment systems. With 19 different OEM brands and new awards worth some US$13 billion, Matthew Beecham caught up with Harman’s senior vice president of global engineering Kelei Shen to discuss the infotainment manufacturer’s Next Big Thing. 

Could you tell us a little about the background of the project? 

For over ten years we have enjoyed a strong relationship with BMW. We supply a range of infotainment products from premium sound systems through to navigation systems. Internally, we called this High Head Unit, ‘Project NBT’ or Next Big Thing. It really is that important a product and step beyond traditional head units. It forms the core of ConnectedDrive that was announced in late 2012.

What makes the High Head Unit the core of the ConnectedDrive experience?

The unit features a DVD drive, 200GB hard disc drive and a high-resolution 1280×480 display with 1.3GHz processor. It is packed with ‘industry firsts’: drivers can dictate short emails, texts or voice memos that can be sent later or instantly via mobile uplink. To simplify connectivity to services such as Facebook or internet radio, it also includes an embedded BMW iPhone App with the option to load third party apps in the future. Crucially, we believe it delivers a seamless experience for users notably for connectivity. And through novel HMI strategies, we believe this has been achieved safely and intuitively.

You’ve spoken about user interface from a visual point.  What about connectivity and control for various external devices? 

Data suggests that sales of smartphones will reach 900 million this year. Extensive in-car connectivity to these devices is therefore becoming an expectation in modern vehicles. Integrated connectivity can also help create a safer driving experience by reducing the need to fumble around with a smartphone while driving.

By harnessing the capabilities of Nuance ‘s Dragon Drive we can offer improved voice control for six different languages. This allows drivers to answer calls, dictate memos, send emails and text messages, all while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. As I said these are industry firsts for infotainment systems.     

For this product, we added this functionality to enhance safe communication options for drivers. For example: to safely receive a text without taking their eyes off the road ahead, drivers can have an incoming message read out aloud by the on-board text-to-speech technology. They can then respond completely through voice control meaning that their hands remain safely on the steering wheel.



Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) – a look at global shares

There are six major suppliers of interior HVAC systems worldwide. These include Japan’s Denso , US suppliers Delphi and Visteon , Valeo of France and Germany’s Behr. All these companies supply on a global scale and have varying market positions depending upon individual geographic markets and regions.

In terms of the market rankings, Denso is the market leader. Despite losing market share in 2011 and 2012 it retained its dominant position and is a good 11 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival, Valeo. Denso had a challenging year in 2012, with some of its main Asian markets hit by factors largely beyond its control. In China it is reorganising its activities to better reflect local product needs and it has seen auto sales decline which in turn affected its short term sales position. In Thailand it suffered from the disruption caused by the floods and poor performance in countries such as Indonesia all contributed to a small loss in overall market share in 2012. This is expected to be a short term issue and we expect to see it recover its position in 2013 as sales and production regularise in these markets.  

Valeo lost ground in 2012 as did Delphi but Germany’s Behr had a good year with some strong new business wins and it increased its share by 2 percentage points. Visteon lost share in 2012 but it should be noted that it was in something of a transition period as it was preparing to combine its climate control business with that of its Korean associate, Halla Climate Control. While agreement to merge the two businesses was reached towards the end of 2102 the process has taken longer than anticipated and the final consolidation is taking place in the first half of 2013. Once the two businesses have been formally consolidated we would expect to see the newly named Halla Visteon Climate Control Corporation to emerge as the number two supplier behind Denso.

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