The automotive industry is facing a huge future challenge to reduce the environmental impact from new mass market vehicles. A number of new technologies are being developed in order to reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact. Vehicle manufacturers are for example collaborating with their component suppliers to develop electrical drivetrains, hybrid drivetrains and fuelcell drivetrains in order to reduce energy consumption and substitute the need for fossil fuels.
These technologies need to be fitted into the current vehicle production system before they can develop into attractive alternatives to the conventional combustion engine. Manufacturing of modern mass market vehicles is today characterised by trend towards modular design and modular production of core technologies fitted in cars. The idea behind the modular production system is to reduce costs in the vehicle production by fitting components into complete functional units that can be designed and manufactured independently. The modules are integrated in technology platforms which are used across models within groups of vehicle manufacturers. This system enables the vehicles manufacturers reduce development and design costs, increase scale in component manufacturing and consequently reduce overall production and development costs. If the new technologies are to succeed in the modern vehicle production system then they need to be developed and applied to features of the current production system. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the use of modularised production systems in the automotive industry can be combined with the integration new environmental technologies. The paper is based on research conducted in a PhD project. The paper is empirically based a number of case studies of component suppliers of environmental technology for cars.
The paper concludes that the technical modularisation in the production of environmentally friendly engine systems (such as the full battery electric, the hybrid electric and the fuel cell electric engine system) enables vehicle manufacturers to choose a flexible development path that allows multiple solutions to be developed simultaneously and thereby allow vehicles manufactures to make strategic changes during development stages if the technological development takes an unexpected turn. Vehicle manufacturers that chose to concentrate activities around developing the hybrid drive trains may therefore be able to re-use components and systems such as batteries, high voltage wiring, electric motors and brake regeneration system if, for example, the development of the battery electric vehicle or the fuel cell vehicle progress faster than expected. The technical linkages between the alternative drive trains additionally allow vehicle manufacturers to benefit from technological discoveries made in competing drive trains.