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How 8 Engineers Designed the Future Electric Vehicle

A key part of any stop on the year-long Drive for Innovation was interacting with engineers either examining our Chevy Volt, or driving it around. Everyone has a design suggestion.

Analog Devices took it to the next level, in the Fall of 2011, by hosting an outdoor reception during which employees put Sticky-note design suggestions all over the electric vehicle (EV).

That sparked an idea: How would our engineering audience design an EV for the future?

Serendipitously, Mark Skillings, a former longtime marketing executive with ADI, suggested over dinner that we focus-group it.

ADI, as it turns out, once used a decision-making, consensus-building process called the KJ Method, after its inventor, Jiro Kawakita. Skillings, now founder and president of the TMC Group, swore by it, and noted that his product development teams used the K-J and other voice-of-the-customer (VOC) techniques in the new product development process.

So we convened a focus group of eight engineers late last year (one-way glass and the whole shootin' match), which Skillings led deftly.

In the space of two hours, we'd identified and built consensus around the right ways to focus next-generation vehicle design.

Here's what happened:

We started by trying to solve the problem:

“What are the factors limiting the acceptance of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the US?”

The process, in which there are no wrong or right answers, allows the participant to write any number of answers to the question and place them on a whiteboard. Our eight lucky engineers, one by one, and multiple times, jotted down thoughts and stuck them, more or less randomly, on the board. They wrote several dozen answers, such as:

– Charging time
– Range low
– Price high
– Repair cost
– Charger accessible
– Reliability

Then, we asked our engineers to group the stickies silently — in any manner that they believed two or more went together. (Silence is the key, because it allows everyone to consider how they would group them without being badgered). Then, a round of conversation was followed by some additional labeling — all led by the engineers. Lastly, there was a prioritization vote.

What happened?

Range anxiety was the No. 1 factor limiting acceptance, followed closely by “Real Cost/Value.”

“Accessible charging,” “Design Attraction,” “Reliability,” “Unfamiliarity,” and “Capacity/Size” were far down the list.

Next step was question No. 2:

“When thinking of Electric Vehicles (EVs), what specific design suggestions would you as an engineer, prospective driver, or both suggest to the GM team?”

Here we got far more individual answers, more than 75 stuck up on the board. They included:

-Low center of gravity
-Sun roof
-Wheel motors
-Coffee maker
-Voice controlled operations
-More legroom in back
-Fully electric
-Same range as my gas car
-Speed control by traffic sensing
-More safety sensors

These suggestions were grouped into categories, such as ergonomics, cost, automation, energy storage, feel/performance, and package options.

Perhaps not surprising, energy storage was by far (3:1) the most important design consideration, according to our engineering group. Cost was a distant second, followed closely by automation.

What impressed me the most was the fact that the top two priorities in answer to question No. 2 were in exact alignment with the top two identified problems limiting EV acceptance.

Now, the next step is see how these track with what Andy Farah, the chief Volt engineer, and his team at GM are thinking about for their vehicle's future.

How do you think the future EVs should be designed? Tell us below.

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted to the Drive For Innovation website.

22 comments on “How 8 Engineers Designed the Future Electric Vehicle

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 24, 2013

    As a major design consideration, I would put , the capability to get fast replenishment of depleted battery as my highest priority.

     

    This is because if an EV has to compete with the Gas-powered vehicles then – the quick refueling is the main concern.

    If I am to design an EV , I would design the placement of the battery bank which is easily removable ( in minutes).

    I would design battery charging stations having fully charged batteries on the go for the highway travelers.

    So an Ev can just drive in and get its discharged batteries replaced with fully charged batteries in a jiffy ( in the same time as is taken to refill gas)

    That would solve the range problem and Evs will be able to compete with today's cars.

  2. Ariella
    September 24, 2013

    @P_D that makes sense. It could follow the model of propane tanks for barbeques. People don't bring in their tank for filling. Rather, they swap out their empty one for a full one. 

  3. Daniel
    September 25, 2013

    Brains, as of now the only drawbacks of electric vehicles are its power and mileage.  So any improvement in this two factors can make it competitive with gasoline based vehiciles.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    September 25, 2013

    @Jacob,

    Electric vehicules do have a bright future despite their “range anxiety” issues and their power limitations. We all dream of the days when gas and oil would be the things of the past. And those days will certainly come soon. 

  5. Houngbo_Hospice
    September 25, 2013

    @Ariella,

    Swaping EV batteries may not be beneficial as a battery life decreases with time. So you would not want to swap your one year old battery with a five years old one. 

  6. Ariella
    September 25, 2013

    @H_H that is something to take into consideration. But I'm sure that they can mark the batteries and allow people to pay according to the age as well as for the charge in that case.

  7. jbond
    September 25, 2013

    I would have to agree. I wouldn't want to swap my battery. Especially since you could be getting an older batter. I think there needs to be a better concept.

  8. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Prabharkar, I second you on battery charging being the priority. Secondly it is important for manufacturers to introduce batteries that are self-charging such as from sunlight and for that some portion of the battery should be exposed to sun. Another options can be thought of for areas where sun hardly comes out.

  9. Daniel
    September 26, 2013

    “Electric vehicules do have a bright future despite their “range anxiety” issues and their power limitations. We all dream of the days when gas and oil would be the things of the past. And those days will certainly come soon. “

    Hospice, there is no doubt for that because its green in nature and maintenance cost is less. It's very good in local city drive for a small family.

  10. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Hospice, I hope our desire turns out real i.e. of batteries and other forms replacing oil and gas because day by day the prices of oil and gas are going up and, in the bigger picture, countries are fighting with each other for gaining control over these resources.

  11. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Jacob, you are spot on about batteries being friendly for the environment. Though unfortunately this factor is one of the least considered factor, it is good that manufacturers due to other reasons are moving in the positive direction from that perspective.

  12. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Jacob

    ” So any improvement in this two factors can make it competitive with gasoline based vehiciles.”

    Once the idea goes mainstream, these problems of power and mileage will resolve too. Afterall who would have thought ten years before that quad-core processors would have been built in inside a 5 inch phone.

  13. Daniel
    September 26, 2013

    “you are spot on about batteries being friendly for the environment. Though unfortunately this factor is one of the least considered factor, it is good that manufacturers due to other reasons are moving in the positive direction from that perspective.”

    Waqas, I think none of the companies can neglect the green and environmental factors in coming days because of rise in global pollution rate and intervention from various environmental NGOs.

  14. Daniel
    September 26, 2013

    “Once the idea goes mainstream, these problems of power and mileage will resolve too. Afterall who would have thought ten years before that quad-core processors would have been built in inside a 5 inch phone.”

    Waqas, you may be right. These are the two issues am facing with my EV. I won't be able to go for a long run with my all family members due to these limitations.

  15. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Jacob, I hope NGOs get so powerful worldwide that they are able to resist the pressures from large corporations who tend to get even the governments' support in things that are not environmental friendly.

  16. ITempire
    September 26, 2013

    Jacob, glad to hear that you operate a EV. How much did it cost you and which manufacturer's is it of ?

  17. Daniel
    September 27, 2013

    “glad to hear that you operate a EV. How much did it cost you and which manufacturer's is it of ?”

    Waqas, it's a 3 year old Vehicle from Reva. That time its cost is approx $8000 equivalent in local currency.

  18. Daniel
    September 27, 2013

    “I hope NGOs get so powerful worldwide that they are able to resist the pressures from large corporations who tend to get even the governments' support in things that are not environmental friendly.”

    Waqas, the sad part is they are the only agencies raising their voices against pollution and for environmental issues.

  19. ahdand
    September 27, 2013

    @Waqas: Im not sure why the NGOs are being given lots of power in the first place. Due to that reason only they influence in everything which sometimes does have very negative impact

  20. ITempire
    September 29, 2013

    nimantha.d

    I will disagree with you on that. NGOs must be powerful else corporations, which were less ethical, will eat up the society and the environment. If a NGO is not working in the interests of the society, we can't just blame all NGOs for it.

  21. ITempire
    September 29, 2013

    Jacob, glad to hear that. Is it an completely EV or a hybrid car ? Sorry for too many questions 🙂

  22. Daniel
    October 4, 2013

    “glad to hear that. Is it an completely EV or a hybrid car ? Sorry for too many questions :)”

    Waqas, it's a complete EV and not Hybrid. I have another Hybrid having Gasoline and natural gas as fuel

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