A real flood of new models is coming from the Volkswagen group. How do the r&d engineers manage to transform VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech's ideas into real cars?
Dr. Piech not only has ideas, but he also helps us to realize them. He makes sure we are provided with the right environment for our work, whether that means extra money, or machinery or making quick decisions. He is not the sort of boss who leaves ideas behind him. He works with us to realize them.
Add to this our platform strategy. It is easier to build a new car on an existing platform than to create a new platform. That is the reason why we can produce one car after another.
Take the Golf platform. It now has at least a dozen roles. Many different cars have been derived from it. Now we are pushing forward with the next platform for the Polo class, which is being first used for the new Skoda Fabia.
But technology is only one side of the picture. The main thing is the atmosphere, the climate that is necessary to get real teamwork. It has to be fun to work, otherwise there'll be no creativity.
VW has developed a gasoline direct injection system called Fuel Stratified Injection. What's special about it?
It is the first gasoline direct injection system to run with stratified charge without enrichment. We also are using patents from Toyota, but the main innovation is our own combustion process and our specially developed DeNox catalyst.
In the big discussion about whether to use a high-pressure unit injection system or common-rail direct injection, we have no religious creed. We use them both. Audi mainly uses common rail, and Volkswagen uses mainly unit injection. A company of the size of VW must be able to afford two different, very costly techniques.
How do you cope with ever-decreasing development times?
It is very important for us developers to get fast decisions from top executives. Nothing is worse than waiting for a decision for a long time.
How much more development time can be cut out of the process?
There is a natural limit to how far you can cut development time. It still takes 12 months to produce a tool for shaping the side of a car. Some tools take 15 months to make.
We reckon it takes 18 months to reach the production stage from the moment you sign off the master mock-up. Each company has a different way of working this out. Modern computerized working methods have been decisive in radically cutting down development time and cost. New and faster methods are constantly being developed.
Piech is known to be rather impatient. Is VW's development of new models fast enough for him?
I think so, yes. If something goes wrong, he sees the problem as a technician, and agrees it will take a few days longer.
Does he sketch the way he wants the car shaped?
He's more likely to sketch an engine than a car shape. When it comes to car shapes, he likes to have the model in front of him.
But if it comes to the crankshaft of a V-8 engine, he will sketch that freehand while standing up. But he has what we call in Germany the 'right nose' for shaping a car. We talk first about the shape of the car, and only afterward about the cost.
Is it essential for an engineer and not a finance man to be head of VW?
I think so, yes. I find it is a great thing that Dr. Piech listens to technical topics rather than to other topics.
But technicians tend to tell everyone they would have done things differently, and better.
I have worked with Dr. Piech now for more than 20 years. I know we think along similar lines. He is a man of quick, clear decisions. Naturally we tend to change and improve things until the last minute, to the annoyance of our friends from production. But you have to realize there is a point when you have to stop making changes.