26 November 2003
FRANKFURT – Automobile producers are investing a fortune in designing the car of the future with their research and development departments sometimes employing more staff than several a big university, data released by the German auto industry showed.
Researchers are looking at cleaner, cost-saving engines, new material concepts, simpler driving and control systems, improved steering and perfect emission systems. Sometimes they just look at a more practical cup holder or dirt-free seating material.
According to the Association of German Automobile Producers (VDA) in Frankfurt, manufacturers in Germany alone have invested more than EUR60 billion in research and development during the past five years.
German car producers register annually some 3,000 patents and are one of the country`s most innovative sectors. In comparison Japanese car producers register 1,800 patents, US producers 1,500 and their French counterparts 700.
BMW, based in the southern German city of Munich, opened its Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) in 1990 where some 9,500 scientists, technicians, engineers and other experts bring together their ideas on the car of the future. The centre registers between 550 and 600 patents a year.
Volkswagen employs around 9,000 experts in a high-security area of its factory in Wolfsburg.
DaimlerChrysler says it has some 28,000 employees in research worldwide and registers 2,000 patents annually. Opel Germany has 800 researchers at its International Technical Research Centre.
Even a relatively small producer like Porsche has its own think- tank of some 2,300 engineers. The sports car manufacturer however offers its services to other companies as well. Porsche engineers adjust chassis and transmission systems of Korean and French producers. They were also involved in the designing of the flexible seating system of the Opel Zafira.
Researchers are often years ahead of their time looking at long- term visions. Developers on the other hand are involved in concrete product planning ahead of one model generation. Ford in Cologne has several thousand specialists in its development department while its research centre in Aachen has only a few hundred scientists.
Volkswagen says most of their research and development staff come from typical machine-building and engineering professions. But sociologists, psychologists and doctors are also involved in research on the future of the automobile. Some producers even have experts looking at the “feel” of surface material and perfume specialists monitoring the odour of new cars.
Subject: German news