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Now that the 2016 season is over, it’s time to talk a little bit about Formula 1® .

Formula One is a hothouse for the development of ultra-high-speed, ultra-lightweight, tough, crash-resistant materials. In 2017, materials and technologies developed in Formula One will keep transitioning into mainstream serial manufacture. But, cost will remain an issue. Big-money marketing means that, for Formula One, development costs are not a priority. For OEM producers they are. But many are achieving increased quality and cost reduction. In 2016, we’ve seen excellent advances in serial vehicles that are safer, lighter and more powerful. In 2017, we’ll see even more. All show the serious competitive edge that large-scale manufacturers get when they learn from smaller, high-end, innovative manufacturers.

Take 2016’s new Range Rover Evoque. It’s safer, more powerful—and 300 kg lighter than its predecessors. The new Evoque has a powerful, all-aluminum engine that is 20–30 kg lighter than earlier models, delivering fuel economy of up to 4.2 l/100 km and COemissions of 109 g/km. BMW, too, has pioneered new aluminum and carbon fiber materials. Its 2016 i8 model uses more carbon and carbon fiber parts than ever before, combining aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). The i8 is over 63 kg lighter than earlier models.

But Audi’s new e-tron range brings together all the trends. A high-speed, high-power hybrid, it combines increased battery size and lighter weight. The first plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder diesel engine, the e-tron consumes 1.7 l/100 km—less than 50 grams CO2 per km. The lithium-ion battery stores 17.3 kWh of energy, delivering a range of up to 56 km in all-electric mode. Its body structure is developed from a new multi-material design that uses aluminum and high-grade lightweight steel. The whole SUV weighs 1,995 kg—about the same as a concert grand piano.

New vehicles mean new automotive manufacturing processes

New materials are only half the story. New vehicles mean new processes. The growth of EVs and hybrids means many manufacturing processes are largely unchanged since Ford’s Model T is being turned on their head—literally. In EVs and hybrids, the battery is one of the last parts to go in, in the rear of the car, a complete reversal of traditional processes. Take the Audi e-tron: It has a longitudinally mounted engine, constructed using a sophisticated modular matrix system, a far call from the traditional production line. For suppliers and manufacturers, automation and new processes will power their competitive edge. Manufacturing plants like Tesla’s, which rather than having a sequential line have several automated stations, will become the norm. The Tesla plant employs 3,000 people and 180 highly versatile, specialized robots. Process efficiency drives everything.

The lifecycle of vehicles is decreasing year by year, with new models arriving thick and fast. In 2017, we will see the backbone of automotive manufacturing—the production line—streamline, automate and diversify at even greater speed as manufacturers and suppliers race to produce lighter, more powerful vehicles faster. The effects will spread throughout the supply chain. Suppliers, too, will need to be more innovative, faster and more agile—often transforming their logistics and production processes as smaller, more technologically advanced suppliers start challenging older ones. Speed of development, production and supply will be of the essence—and end-to-end agility and visibility the key.

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