Working in a non-conventional way without the usual formalities of vehicle development fosters innovation and enables a lean operation
At Aehra, we aim to keep a very asset-light approach, which is what we think is necessary for a startup. We do so by leveraging partners. This was the method I used at Ferrari to do the basic concept development of the key systems. It was very much a partnership approach. The building blocks of the vehicle architecture were conceived according to what was necessary for future vehicles – rather than trying to develop new technology on existing vehicles. It was about creating something that would fit the needs but that would also open up possibilities for the future. In my mind, if you don’t do this, you’re basically preparing your future within the constraints of the past.
We are taking the same approach in dealing with suppliers (or partners: I don’t like calling them suppliers). We won’tbe doing an assembly of existing vehicle blocks, instead we will get input on how to prepare these building blocks so that when they’re put together, they achieve what we’re trying to achieve – to create innovative layouts, architectures and aerodynamics. That is not usually easily possible with existing elements conceived on the basis of existing vehicles.
The team here is small but we have a lot of experience, and what needs to be done is almost intrinsic in the way we think. We are able to work with a general program in mind without a detailed program of day-by-day activities. That enables flexibility to adjust to the opportunities that come up with partners as we approach the different systems. The fact that we all have a long history of personal contacts also means we don’t need as many formalities when approaching partners – and that again keeps things lean.
Being lean means also being able to move away from established automotive industry procedures that have become more and more complicated and time-consuming. These processes have been developed over decades. In terms of the system requirements, new requirements can overshadow what’s been done in the past. But new requirements lead to repetitious activities that protect jobs because more activities mean more roles and people are needed to do that.
Over time I’ve found that being too structured can block innovation possibilities – very structured processes lead to excellently mediocre products.
In starting from zero, we need to protect the lean approach and not duplicate work that can be done by partners that are already generating revenue. We must utilize their expertise and protect our resources.
Another thing that helps to stay lean is understanding how partner processes work. It’s efficient for us to find where there are flexibility gaps to enable the solution to be tailored to the specific needs of our vehicles. My approach is pushing partners hard but knowing when they are about to become uncomfortable; when people are uncomfortable their thinking switches from passion to discomfort. I want people to be passionate; it means they’re interested and give an extra percent of effort toward the result.
One of the opportunities of electric propulsion systems is that solutions can be laid out so that some of constraints are removed – and the mental blocks. I believe there are mental blocks in the industry when it comes to developing innovative architectures. Most electric vehicles entering the market replicate the proportions of cars with combustion engines, yet the propulsion system in EVs is significantly different. It was a mystery to Aehra’s founders why the vehicle proportions would not leverage the different layouts that electric propulsion systems enable.