DETROIT – Acknowledging faulty electronics often have been at the root of eroding customer satisfaction and increased warranty costs, representatives from several electronics suppliers making presentations at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here say auto makers and suppliers need to reinvent the way they cooperatively develop vehicle electronic architectures.

Despite a keynote speech in which Robert Lutz, General Motors Corp.’s product-development czar, called for simplifying vehicle interiors and reducing the proliferation of electronic features, “I don’t think we can stop that,” says Frank Homan, Siemens VDO Automotive vice president of North American cockpit modules and systems.

“We want that stuff,” he insists.

Homan and other panel member discussing how to improve the development process for vehicle electronic architectures, say the rapid increase in demand for electronic features and controls has, to now, led to something of a train wreck.

The reason, says Mohamad Zeidan of Lear Corp., is that Tier 1 electronics suppliers and auto makers have not properly integrated their development processes.

Zeidan says product-development problems include:

Incomplete requirements before electrical components begin development.

Electrical components and software mandated by auto makers that sometimes are not optimized for a particular application or vehicle architecture.

Perhaps most important, targeted cost and layout of electrical systems and components that often force a compromise in “signal integrity” (reliability).

Zeidan and Don Lee, senior manager, Denso International America, suggest suppliers and auto makers invest more in “predictive analysis” that will ferret out problems earlier in the development process, as well as in improved validation processes.

Lee says such “upstream” engineering is essential, because intermittent or deep-seated electrical problems frequently are not discovered until the electrical component or system is installed in the vehicle, the worst and most costly time to learn of a problem.

Echoing the findings of a 2004 study that correlated the increase of vehicle electronics content with decrease in overall quality ratings – a study that also said half of all electronics defects are software-related – Denso’s Lee says the cost of an electrical architecture’s software now almost equals the cost of hardware.

Siemens VDO’s Homan says 40%-60% of the total cost of a cockpit is for electronics, a figure surpassing even the plastic content.

“I see a huge chance here” to reduce electronics costs, he says, so that investment in the development process can be increased in the hope of mitigating quality problems and freeing money for improved interior features and materials.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com