You’ve been working at Škoda for 17 years already, and most recently, for two and a half years, as final assembly coordinator on the OCTAVIA. In a few sentences, could you begin by comparing the cars that used to roll off the assembly lines back when you started with the vehicles you are manufacturing today? Or do you think that’s impossible because these are two completely different worlds?
They really are two completely different worlds. When I first joined ŠKODA in 2000, the ŠKODA FELICIA was still being manufactured at the Kvasiny plant. The FELICIA vehicles usually had control units only for the engine, ABS, immobilizer, and airbag, and they were made with four engine options. A FELICIA with air-conditioning was an exception. All the same, they were really popular, simple, and very reliable vehicles. Nevertheless, they scarcely can be compared with the equipment and comfort of today’s ŠKODA vehicles.
Today’s ŠKODA cars have 40–60 control units, cars without air-conditioning are practically no longer made, and that’s not to mention the assistance systems and connectivity.
Present-day cars are literally filled with assistance systems providing safer travel. How is their presence in the cars reflected in the demandingness of your work?
I’m currently responsible for final assembly in the M13 assembly hall. We are manufacturing OCTAVIA, RAPID and TOLEDO vehicles numbering 1,300 cars per day. This is truly final assembly, where one of the last operations is to set up the assistance systems. The vehicle is positioned perpendicularly to the calibration wall, connected to diagnostics and radar, and the front and back camera are set up automatically. Our work only reflects the fact that the setting up requires equipment and a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the setting up is performed fully automatically. The OCTAVIA was the first ŠKODA vehicle with assistance systems. When they were introduced in 2012, we needed just one device for setting up assistance systems. We currently have three such devices, and from August we will have five. This shows the rate of growth in the number of vehicles equipped with assistance systems. An increasing number of customers recognize the advantages of the sophisticated active safety systems that these assistance systems represent.
Electric mobility and autonomous driving – these terms are increasingly heard in connection with the automotive industry. Have they been reflected in your activities, too?
Frankly speaking, this is currently only in the planning phase. My first experience with it was during a training visit to VW Slovakia, where I had an opportunity to witness the early planning for assembly of the electric model VW Up. I wasn’t present in Bratislava for the production roll-out of the e-UP, because I had other responsibilities in vehicle production at the Kvasiny plant. Intensive preparations are currently underway in vehicle manufacturing in relation to the legal requirements to provide electrical education for those key positions, as well as the necessary modifications of the assembly hall, the assembly-line system, and the machinery and equipment for production of the first mass-produced electric-powered ŠKODA.
ŠKODA will present the electric-powered ŠKODA VISION E concept car at this year’s Shanghai auto show. It can therefore be expected that in the near future one and gradually more ŠKODA models will be fully electric- or hybrid-powered. Do you believe that this will fundamentally influence your work, or will it be just a matter of installing a different type of engine and so the change will be nothing to worry about?
Just like any other big change or big project, one has to respect the significance of electro-mobility. In any case, I wouldn’t say that “worry” is the right word to describe it. It’s more like this poses a challenge for the ŠKODA brand. No project should be underestimated. It’s necessary to prepare properly for all possible alternatives. Our work will certainly be changed by e-mobility, but this is true also for the smaller changes like initiating new accessories, motor variants and transmissions. Production today must very flexibly accommodate current trends and requirements. I have no doubt whatsoever that the ŠKODA manufacturing team will manage the launch of electric car production with flying colours.
How much difference is there when designing a car with electric versus conventional propulsion?
No matter what the choice of drivetrain, every project starts on a blank sheet of paper. Regarding the conventional propulsion, we start with the feeling for the aspects of the concept, the proportions, and the design DNA features. The issues of electric propulsion – one versus two electric motors, batteries in the floorpan, long wheelbase, short overhangs, and that sort of thing – these offer interesting aspects to explore in the design expression.
Do you consider VISION E to be more of an evolution or a revolution in ŠKODA design?
With the VISION E, we will present the first fully electric car from ŠKODA! What a unique historical moment!
How much emphasis is on aerodynamics for the VISION E?
In addition to creating a really outstanding and expressive design, we will deal with the aerodynamic issues in a very logical and sophisticated way!
What ties VISION E into the ŠKODA brand in terms of its design?
The VISION E closely reflects the ŠKODA design DNA. It has a very clear, precise and crystalline shape, harmonious proportions, and a characteristic product identity. It expresses an outlook and a vision for the ŠKODA electric models.
If you were to highlight just one most characteristic design feature of VISION E, which would it be?
The VISION E presents a very distinctive dynamic coupe silhouette with a very powerfully sculptured body, shot through with a crystalline light in a truly unique way!
TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT AREA
The VISION E concept car is ŠKODA’s first fully electrically powered vehicle. Could you briefly describe how this works?
VISION E is an electrically powered vehicle with four-wheel drive. Each axle is driven by its own individual electric motor. The motors’ total output is 225 kW, which makes the VISION E a very dynamic car. Energy for the electric motors is stored in a battery located in the floor. Transfer of energy between the battery and the electric motors is controlled through the power electronics.
Electric drive is certainly not the only new thing about the presented concept. What other new solutions have been used? Which ‘Simply Clever’ feature can we see in this concept for the first time?
The vehicle is continuously connected online to the internet, and the cockpit accommodates this.
For example, the driver can be viewing the online navigation while the front-seat passenger is booking a table at a restaurant. In addition, innovative lightweight aluminium seats were used. These rotate 20 degrees to make it easier when getting in. The seat also allows for a comfortable position during autonomous driving.
Autonomous driving is an objective in the minds of people not only at ŠKODA but one may say among all automotive manufacturers. How close have you come to this with the VISION E concept car?
VISION E is capable of Level 3 autonomous driving. This means the vehicle can drive itself on pre-defined roads. The typical example would be a highway. The vehicle is able to handle all common tasks such as overtaking and slowing down before a traffic jam. If there occurs a situation the car cannot resolve, the driver has 12 seconds to take back the wheel.
Whenever electro-mobility is mentioned, the power source problem comes up in the same breath – more specifically, with respect to batteries, their capacity, and recharging speed. Was this area also problematic for you in terms of development?
This is a problematic area for every electric vehicle developer. Immense demands are made of batteries in terms of capacity, recharging speed, weight, life, and cooling, and often these demands contradict one another.
A large number of digital displays can be seen in the interior. Could you explain what is the purpose of each of them?
The following displays are situated in the interior: A small display in front of the steering wheel presents the most important technical information about the car and the warning lights. Between the driver and the front-seat passenger, there is a large display which allows setting up all the car’s important functions, such as navigation, autonomous driving, and infotainment. In front of the windshield there is a wide-screen display which spans from the driver to the front-seat passenger. This display is used for the driver’s 3D navigation, for example, and it also lets the passenger watch films, make video-calls, or monitor the news and weather. The sides of the screen display images from cameras that have replaced the side-view mirrors. In addition, the doors feature iPhone docking stations which allow synchronizing one’s phone with the car, phones amongst themselves, and recharging.
PRODUCT MARKETING AREA
ŠKODA VISION E is a break-through concept from ŠKODA inasmuch as it is the first fully electric-powered vehicle. When did you decide upon this project and why is it an SUV?
We started working on this project almost two years ago already. We have chosen the SUV – or more specifically the CUV (crossover utility vehicle) – body type because in the eyes of the consumers this is the most modern and progressive body type. Moreover, the SUV segment is still growing worldwide every year and the body type is well received in all important car markets.
To which features of the VISION E would you draw particular attention as compared to the concepts from competing brands?
The VISION E is a purpose-built, all-electric car. That means it was designed to be available solely as an all-electric car. There is to be no conventional power train available as an option.
Due to the large size of the battery fit between the two axles, the resulting real-world driving range is much closer than ever to that of conventional cars. The VISION E has a 4-wheel-drive configuration based on a dual motor concept, with one motor in the front and one in the rear. This results in dynamic capabilities for acceleration.
The VISION E is a showcase for how an electric car can be designed around human needs and without compromising on daily usability. The VISION E easily accommodates a
large family with luggage, thus ensuring that the car is well-suited to long vacations as well as short city hops. The comfort and spaciousness is complemented by ambient and thermo lighting throughout, making the cabin an immensely relaxing place. With the aim of making e-mobility more human, the VISION E enables natural interaction with advanced technology. Features such as satellite navigation are activated and set by voice alone, while music playback is controlled by simple hand gestures. The car also tracks eye movement to predict the driver’s next action.
ŠKODA is extending its human approach to e-mobility with a range of on-board assistance systems. Sensors enable autonomous driving up to 130 kilometre per hour. During this time, the steering column can be stowed away and the Easy Entry Seats rotated by 20 degrees to create even more interior space. Traffic jam analysis and automated parking allow the driver to find the fastest route and to park automatically upon arrival. These practical features save time and make day-to-day travel more convenient.
Health and well-being are also key to the VISION E experience. An array of sensors, including a temperature-sensitive steering wheel and ECG reader in the seat, help track the vitality of the driver to ensure a safe and comfortable journey for everyone. Furthermore, the VISION E is always connected online and even allows over-the-air updates and upgrades.
What do you think are the main obstacles for electric cars to overcome in order to replace petrol vehicles in the next several years?
In the minds of consumers, electric cars have three main reasons arguing against their purchase: driving range, price premium, and lack of charging infrastructure.
We are tackling all three of these main reasons against purchasing an electric car. The VISION E has a driving range of 500 km (NEDC) and DC fast-charging capabilities which allow charging to 80 % of battery capacity in less than 30 min. This makes the VISION E suitable also for long‑distance trips, such as on holiday. Inductive AC charging makes charging at home very convenient, since you don’t even need any more to plug in or unplug any charging cables.
Value for money is one of the main reasons for purchasing ŠKODA cars generally, and ŠKODA e-mobility products will certainly adhere to this philosophy as well. In other words, ŠKODA will not be providing an electric power train at a premium price.
Furthermore, VW Group has created together with other car manufacturers a joint venture that will build up a high-performance, fast-charging network along the important highway routes across Europe. This network will greatly reduce any anxiety people may have about driving range.
Could you sketch out your plans concerning alternative-powered vehicles? Might we expect, for example, to see such motors used in one of the existing models?
Converting an existing model into an all-electric car will always be a compromise in terms of driving range and package design. Only purpose-built electric cars incorporate such benefits as sufficient real-world driving range and increased interior space. This means that at ŠKODA future all-electric cars will be mainly new products and will be available exclusively with all-electric power trains.
Product line Midsize
What does the new concept car VISION E mean to you personally?
The VISION E is all about teamwork. It is a real ŠKODA masterpiece showing us what we can expect electric driving to be in the near future. All of our history, our experience, our design evolution led to this emotional concept car. It shows there can be no doubting our commitment to play an important role in the e-car market that is almost upon us.
Which new features of VISION E can we expect to see also in other ŠKODA models in the coming years?
What we see is more than just a car that’s gone electric. It’s full of ideas, with advanced systems helping the driver in the context of monotonous driving situations. Energy efficiency is the overriding goal, so we are developing new thermodynamic applications for cooling and heating. All of this will not be limited to use in electric cars, but it will find its way also into all of our cars.
VISION E is capable of Level 3 autonomous driving. Do you have any information regarding the attitude of your customers towards autonomous driving?
Driving a car is a pleasure, and this will still be true in future. Autonomous driving is very much about trust. We have to demonstrate to our customers – and convince them – that this is an advantage, that it generates more free time for individual needs. We use surveys to determine how to approach all of this and to change the attitudes of our customers.
The new concept car is an SUV with a dynamic coupe silhouette. Can we expect that additional electric models will be created to complete the range of ŠKODA cars in the next 5 years?
We are committed to offering ŠKODA e-cars to all our customers, so what we see today is only the beginning.
What in your opinion is the main strength of VISION E?
It’s a ŠKODA.