In the middle of the transformation

Electric, digital, automated: Technical Development is playing a key role in the rapid transformation of Audi. And it has powerful answers: continuous development rather than cyclical thinking. Design from the inside out. A new culture of leadership and collaboration. And last but not least: extensive training measures.

03/17/2022 Reading Time: 6 min

Audi Technical Development
Once a developer of large-volume engines, he now works on electric drives and batteries: automotive and engine engineer Markus Zimmermann.

A new kind of mobility

If Jan Michel were to sum up the unpredictability of our time in words, the doctor of physics would need just four letters: VUCA. This abbreviation stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity. ­Michel has been Chief Transition Architect for Technical Development at Audi since June 2020. In lectures, articles and talks, he emphasizes the one thing that is absolutely certain in this VUCA world: Everything changes.

 

This is an abstract insight, but also the everyday reality of the employees in Technical Development. Take Markus Zimmermann, for instance, who studied automotive and engine engineering in Stuttgart. His first job brought him to Audi as a developer in 2012, where he worked on component development for internal combustion engines. “V8, V10, those large-volume engines were really very appealing,” says the 37-year-old. “But as soon as I started at Audi, I knew I wouldn’t spend my life working on combustion engines.” Today, his main focus is on the electrical components of hybrid models.

From combustion engine to electric motor, from mechanical to digital

Today, society has an entirely new view of mobility. Sales in the sector will shift – from the combustion engine to electric drive, from hardware to software solutions. “The future of mobility is fully electric, connected, highly digital and, above all, seamlessly integrated into our customers’ lives. To this end, we have adopted completely new ways of thinking and working in Technical Development,” says Oliver Hoffmann, Audi Board Member for Development since March 2021.

 

The goal is clear: a comprehensive and seamless ecosystem for electric and automated cars. This requires an efficient approach to developing internal combustion engines that will be phased out and electric vehicles that are being ramped up – as well as a distinctive Audi DNA for future products. Oliver Hoffmann: “We want to describe the basic genetics of our products very clearly: What will an Audi vehicle of the future look like? How will it drive and what will it feel like?” The automotive industry is in one of the most challenging and exciting decades in its history. Technical Development plays a central role in this – it is in the process of making fundamental changes. And it has powerful answers: ambitious goals, a passion for technology and a spirited cultural transformation.

Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Technical Development (2022)

“The future of mobility is fully electric, connected, highly digital and, above all, seamlessly integrated into our customers’ lives. To this end, we have adopted completely new ways of thinking and working in Technical Development.”

Oliver Hoffmann, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Technical Development

Goals: What do we want to achieve?

“The fact that the future is electric,” says Zimmermann, “has been obvious for some time.” He already wrote about the thermal management of batteries back at university in his thesis. Nowadays, nearly all manufacturers are pursuing the strategy that cars should merely purr gently in the future rather than roar loudly. From 2026, Audi will only introduce new models with electric drive onto the market – in line with the corporate strategy “Vorsprung 2030”.

 

Even more important than electric, however, is connectivity, the “software readiness” of all elements. “The car of the future is becoming a mobile device,” says Michel, driven by a revolution in user behavior: What was once a quick and convenient means of getting from A to B is soon to be transformed into an office or movie theater or shopping mall. All the more so with the advent of automated driving. In the future, when customers can relinquish the
actual task of driving at times, it will be the design and features of the interior that serve as the main selling points.

Sabine Maassen, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Human Resources and Organization (2022)

“We are investing in our employees. We have allocated a training and development budget of as much as 500 million euros up until 2025.”

― Sabine Maassen, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Human Resources and Organization

Designed from the inside out

Technical Development is prepared for this: Instead of first designing the exterior, cars in the future will be conceived from the inside out. The interior is set to become a living environment for customers, thus dominating the entire design process. Take lighting, for example: “We are moving away from pure displays and toward communication,” explains Dietmar Scherer, Head of Strategy in Technical Development.

 

To keep abreast of the customer’s needs and of technological advances, Technical Development is focusing its work on a new guiding principle: continuous development rather than cyclical thinking. Instead of working toward individual milestones such as the start of production, the division acts like a tech company: The development of a model is never completed. Instead, it is continually improved and kept up to date – with software updates, for example. All with the high quality and safety standards of the Audi brand.

Matrix structure instead of functional silos

Another core principle is systems engineering. Whereas engineers formerly thought primarily in terms of parts, vehicles are now broken down into systems that are geared to the relevant software solutions. For example, while turn signals were once developed as a separate part, they now belong to the parking system, in which an abundance of functions such as sensors, steering and the turn signals must interact with each other. “Anyone who has not understood and internalized systems engineering will have trouble in our industry in the coming years. Whether you work in Technical Development or any other division of the company – systems engineering concerns everyone,” explains Jan Michel.

Jan Michel, Chief Transition Architect, Audi Technical development (2022)

“Whether you work in Technical Development or any other division of the company – systems engineering concerns everyone.”

― Jan Michel, Chief Transition Architect for Technical Development

A formula was devised in September 2020 to breathe life into systems engineering, and it still applies: “The project leads, the line implements.” In other words, The product line structure that is responsible for the vehicle projects determines the “what” and “when” of products, while Technical Development is responsible for the “who” and “how.” Chef engineers, whose position was newly created, are the connecting thread, taking responsibility for the technical content and allocating the budgets.

Using and building on available knowledge

If cars are changing, the people who develop them must be able to do different things. “We want to make sure that nobody gets left behind during the transformation. We place great emphasis on professional development,” explains Technical Development strategist Dietmar Scherer.

 

Reorientation is often closer than you think. At the end of 2019, for example, battery development in Ingolstadt was in need of support – and according to Zimmermann: “I was instantly able to offer my knowledge, for example in the field of vehicle tests, but I also learned a lot,” he says. Zimmermann is meanwhile responsible for battery modules in plug-in hybrids such as the Audi Q7 or Audi Q8. His task is to ensure that the batteries comply with the requirements and safety regulations outlined in the specifications.

Audi Q7 TFSI e: Consumption, combined*: petrol 2.7–2.6 l/100km | power 22.6–21.7 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 62–59 g/km

Audi Q8 TFSI e: Consumption, combined*: petrol 2.7–2.4 l/100km | power 21.1–20.4 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 62–55 g/km

Audi Q7 TFSI e: Consumption, combined*: petrol 2.7–2.6 l/100km | power 22.6–21.7 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 62–59 g/km

Audi Q8 TFSI e: Consumption, combined*: petrol 2.7–2.4 l/100km | power 21.1–20.4 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 62–55 g/km

Anna Gutzmann, Modulleiterin Kommunikation und Kultur (2022)

“We all have to be more flexible, more adaptable and more cooperative. The core elements of our culture are willingness, perseverance and the determination to travel new paths.”

― Anna Gutzmann, Project Manager for Communication and Culture at Audi

Thousands of training courses for the future

The company offers numerous training measures, focusing on the transformation and the skills that employees will need in the future. “That is why we are investing in our employees. We have allocated a training and development budget of as much as 500 million euros up until 2025,” says Sabine Maassen, Board Member for Human Resources, “and are investing an additional 100 million euros in the transformation budget. This allows us to drive the personnel transformation from within and rely on our own workforce. These training programs play a particularly important role in Technical Development.”

 

In 2021 alone, around 6,000 participants from Technical Development took part in transformation-related training programs – from software development and data analytics to electric drives and charging technology to system and function development and systems engineering. Many other of the some 10,500 employees in Technical Development will receive the necessary training in the coming years – at the TH Ingolstadt, Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences or the Technical University of Munich, TÜV Süd, in the division and Group academies and at the Neckarsulm site, which is being expanded into a center of competence for electric mobility and high-voltage batteries.

 

Since 2018, about 500 Technical Development employees have already pursued further training in four existing university programs. For instance, Zimmermann and 20 co-workers in his new department completed a customized program at the TH Ingolstadt on battery development and management, safety issues and competition analysis – in a total of eight lectures plus a final exam.

Dietmar Scherer, Head of Strategy in Technical Development at Audi (2022)

“We want to make sure that nobody gets left behind because of the trans­formation. We place great emphasis on professional development.”

― Dietmar Scherer, Head of Strategy in Technical Development at Audi

Ambitious goals

Common to all measures is: “We know we have ambitious goals. But we are proceeding thoughtfully to achieve them and making sure we involve our employees early on,” says Edith Öchsner, Head of Resource and Process Management in Technical Development. An engine specialist is obviously not going to become a hardcore coder overnight – but why shouldn’t chassis experts expand their knowledge to include electric drives? “A basic understanding of technical development and the processes in the company is crucial,” says Zimmermann, “then new contents can be adapted quickly.”

Transformation works only if employees are enthusiastic, motivated and courageous

New technology, new collaboration, new qualifications – this is an enormous undertaking that will prepare Technical Development for the challenges of the future. One thing is certain: Transformation primarily begins in the mind. It is about inspiring employees, getting them on board and motivating them to actively help shape the change. After all: “We all have to be more flexible, more adaptable and more cooperative,” says Anna Gutzmann, Project Manager for Communication and Culture. That starts with management: Top down was yesterday – today’s matrix is about reaching consensus and pursuing shared goals.

 

This is mirrored in a new understanding of technology: “We don’t just think about improving cars. We want to make our customers’ lives better and more simple,” says Hoffmann. Ultimately technology is not an end in itself; it needs to be what Audi refers to as “meaningful technology.” Success in development is therefore no longer measured by individual features, but by the overall customer experience.

Edith Öchsner, Head of Resource and Process Management, Technical Development at Audi (2022)

“We make sure we involve our employees early on.”

― Edith Öchsner, Head of Resource and Process Management, Technical Development at Audi 

Keeping an open mind

And finally, the values. Success in the VUCA world is achieved by team players, not lone warriors. By open-mindedness rather than stubborn insistence. “The core elements of our culture are willingness, perseverance and the determination to travel new paths,” says Gutzmann.

 

Markus Zimmermann already knows how fulfilling it can be to break new ground. “I didn’t have the sense with the combustion engine that I could contribute anything else fundamentally new.” In comparison, batteries are parts that leave many questions unanswered: “Here I have the opportunity to do genuine pioneer work.” True to the motto of Technical Development: “Our best time is yet to come.” The transformation has only just begun. Change is now day-to-day business.

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