Leading interiors supplier Yanfeng has repeatedly gotten the same question from automakers since debuting its futuristic Experience in Motion 2020 (XiM20) concept last year: "What does this have that we can put into our next-generation models?"
The answer is inside the recently launched version, XiM21, which has production-ready features such as zero-gravity seats and its proprietary Smart Cabin Controller that acts as the brain of the interior.
Last year, the Shanghai-based Yanfeng, No. 19 on Automotive News' ranking of global suppliers, decided to combine the R&D activities of its interiors, seating, electronics, safety and exteriors divisions into a new unit called Yanfeng Technology. The idea is both integration — getting a single brain to control multiple functions — and development speed, allowing new products to get to market faster.
Han Hendriks, 55, leads that combined business. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc about Yanfeng's expectations for next-generation interiors. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: There are so many different functions working in the interior at the same time. How do you get all these pieces to move in the right direction?
A: If you have seen the increase in both digital and automated functions in the interior, you know that to create a meaningful, intuitive in-car experience, it's not just a matter of turning lights or music on and off or increasing the temperature. What is crucial is how these features and functions work together as a whole. The choreography of what happens and when it happens is crucial.
How do you do that?
Some functions you want to happen in parallel, some you want to happen sequentially. With that vision in mind, we started developing our own domain control unit. We call it our Smart Cabin Controller. It's a central brain of the interior. Based on 70-plus use cases, we have been able to have [it] choreograph these functions. That means if you want to create a certain mood, or if you want to personalize the interior, you don't have to do everything individually. You have settings or modes you can go to.
How has the controller evolved?
In the XiM20 concept from last year, we also created the impression of a central brain where a lot of these functions happen. It was very well choreographed. But to create that effect in the previous vehicle, we had 19 laptops hidden in the trunk running these simulations. As you can imagine, it was quite an effort to keep everything working for demonstration purposes. It was just very complicated.
To our great happiness we now have a production-ready chip that is doing all the work. It's incredibly robust.
Did you create that chip in-house?
Yes. We did it 100 percent ourselves.
Many automakers and suppliers have established their own software divisions. Does Yanfeng need to do this?
We need to have strong in-house software capability, which is why we are recruiting software engineers in every region of the world to support our efforts. But we do not need 20,000 software engineers.
So you're comfortable with your current level of software expertise?
I wouldn't say that. The software capability we have at the moment needs to grow because the importance of software continues to increase. But I don't think we need to do 100 percent of our software development in-house.