CUSTUMIZATION OF AUTOMOBILES, THE END OF SERIES PRODUCTION?

Automakers would love to have more customers like Alexis Cázares, an employee of a media company, who went to an Audi dealership in December 2015 to buy a new car. I wanted everything: fog lamps with washing system, sliding roof, blue body with metallic effect and an audio system with CD changer.

There was no model with these characteristics, but it took the dealer a couple of minutes for the salesman to order the vehicle with the particularities requested by Cázares, and send it to the Audi plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. In eight weeks, the car was ready. “The experience was good,” says Cázares. On previous occasions, when he went to a dealership to buy a vehicle and there was no model with the characteristics he wanted, the seller tried to persuade him to take any of the options available.

But personalization of vehicles is a trend that premium vehicle manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been trying to climb since the last decade, in order to increase customer loyalty, reduce inventories and avoid Strong rebates on cars that were not selling.

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“But they had little success, because customers were not willing to wait for their car. On the contrary, they sacrificed some characteristics or accepted a different color in order to leave the dealership with their new vehicle, “says Argenis Bauza, KPMG supply chain consultant.

Now, after extensive marketing work and after other brands have successfully pushed the customization of their products – Trek bicycle maker allows customers to build their vehicle from scratch, while Brooks Brothers gives men the ability to Create their own costumes – premium car manufacturers have found echo in consumers who are willing to wait four to eight weeks for a custom car.

According to BMW estimates, in 2010 only 15% of Americans who bought a car of this brand ordered their cars on order. Today, they are around 40%.

GOODBYE, HENRY FORD

But doing so involves some challenges. While brands that make vehicles in series with the same type of seat, steering wheel and engine, can plan their production several months in advance; Automakers that offer custom models do not know the exact configuration until they receive the dealer’s order. After this, they have about four weeks to produce it.

Audi customers can choose from 17 paint colors, 23 rim sizes and 35 seat upholstery. The Ingolstadt plant arms 566,000 units a year. “We only produced two identical cars in a year, the rest had a different handle,” says Miguel Aragón, Planning Manager at the Audi plant in Puebla.

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To deal with this complexity, the BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz plants operate under a model called Just in Sequence , which ensures that the supplier not only delivers the components in the time required, but also that the succession in which Sends each component is correct.

The dealer’s software is linked to the production system and, as soon as the seller clicks to send the customer’s order, the information arrives at the plant. The suppliers of the most critical components – those that the customer can configure – operate near the factory.

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HBPO, for example, produces consoles, radiators, headlights and water pumps at a plant located in Puebla, about five minutes from the Audi complex.

According to Russ Catron, HBPO’s Puebla plant manager, there are 300 variants for the center console. “Due to these variants we can only begin to assemble once we receive the order. When the bodywork is finished and it’s going to come in assembly, we have four hours to build a console and take it to the Audi plant, “says Catron.

A similar process occurs with the seats, the door modules and the headlights.

With so many variations between each vehicle that goes over the assembly line, workers rely on the screens above them to track the vehicle they are building. In them they find the details of the configuration of each one of the models.

WORTH IT

While such complexity costs more than the typical manufacturing process, the gains for both the brands and their dealers justify the investment. Just go to the page of any of the premium brands and start to set up a vehicle to get an idea of ​​the price that these models reach: a vehicle whose base price is 800,000 pesos, reaches over one million pesos when you add one Painting with a finished finish, 47,550 pesos, an air-conditioned system of leather seats, 57,100 pesos, and aluminum wheels, 15,850 pesos.

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In one year, the Ingolstadt plant produced only two identical models.  The rest, about 566,000 units, had variations.
Unique  In one year, the Ingolstadt plant produced only two identical models. The rest, about 566,000 units, had variations.  (Photo: Courtesy)

Personalization also helps companies get ideas from my tcc custom designs and tweak products to stay one step ahead of the competition. With each design choice, customers share buyers’ preferences in real time that go far beyond what they would say in a focus group, says Francisco San Jose, a marketing consultant at the Universidad Anáhuac.

Those customers who had customized an online product became more involved with the company, visited their website more often, stayed on the page longer and were more loyal to the brand.

A survey by JD Power, a consulting firm specializing in customer satisfaction, showed that half of car buyers would switch to a different brand if the current one did not offer the technology and features they wanted. On the contrary, customers whose cars are equipped exactly as they wish are more satisfied with their purchase.

DO IT YOURSELF

Bauza, of KPMG, explains that with the advent of additive manufacturing – a process by which a 3D file is converted into a physical object by adding layer by layer of plastic, resin, metal or paper – consumers can design And manufacture their products. “It will be the personalization carried to its maximum expression,” he says.

Local Motors is already moving in this direction. By 2020, this company, which now has three floors and 200 employees, plans to open 50 small factories where its customers will be able to design and print their cars in less than 12 hours.

Unlike current vehicles, which have up to 20,000 components, Local Motors models are manufactured in ‘printers’ that inject layers of ABS plastic and carbon fiber. According to the company, the manufacturing time of each model is about 44 hours.

Currently, 75% of the vehicle’s structure is printed in 3D. The engine, the battery, the powertrain and the tires come from the Renault Twizy. In the future, Local Motors will try to get 90% of the vehicle out of a 3D printer.

For $ 18,000, customers will choose from a menu of body styles, colors, tires and engine, and following the instructions of an interactive manual will participate in the manufacture of their own vehicle in the plant.

In addition, Local Motors will offer its customers the option of upgrading their vehicle, as their parts can be melted, due to their composition of thermoplastic and carbon fiber, since the material can be used to form a car with new features. A number of these updates will be agreed in the contract of sale.

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Open Letter Committee:
Anthony Barnett, Charles Glass, Tony Curzon Price, Roger Graef, Jemima Khan, Henry Porter, Pranvera Smith, Rachel Johnson, Elaine Potter, Vaughan Smith (chair).

PRESENTED BY:

The Frontline Club

SUPPORTED BY:

Open Democracy

Reporters Without Borders

The Newspaper Guild

The International Federation of Journalists

English PEN

Article 19