26 April 2010

On variants...

During my research I gained some inside information into how various automotive manufacturers work. One very interesting observation is to see how different companies approach variants.

I know of two high-end companies having as a general architectural strategy not to have variants of systems or ECUs. Note that the electrical system as a whole may me different due to e.g. feature content, but if the system has a body control module there only exist one variant of that module both in development and manufacturing. To my understanding they are only using the optional variant in F. Bachmann and L. Bass, "Managing variability in software architectures," SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, vol. 26, 2001, pp. 126-132, and not any of the other types.

Personally I think that this is very beneficial for a company, both from an engineering and from a manufacturing perspective, even if it seems wasteful not to cost-optimise an ECU.

But this strategy is probably not for everyone. There are some common characteristics between these two companies:
  • The are both high-end brands and have customers that can afford to buy the best.
  • They are not mass producers, only in the order of 100k vehicles per year. This means that development costs are not negligible to article cost, even if they are smaller.
  • Tailoring to the customer needs is an important business strategy.
  • The have unusually high ROI compared to the average for the automotive industry. Being successful is another way of describing it.
And no, Volvo Cars is not one of the two companies...

The question is how you "dare" to go for such an architectural strategy if you are not already doing it? I think developing a business case to show that you would earn more $$$ with such a strategy would be extremely difficult.

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