The Chinese car market is the only one of its kind in the world: Over 50 car brands vie there to woo the consumer – among them domestic, Japanese, Korean, American and European automobile groups. Volkswagen has plunged into the competition with a new model.
This year’s end-of-April Beijing Motor Show saw Volkswagen present the new mid-range Lavida sedan that is tailored exactly to the Chinese market. An A-class vehicle, the Lavida brings a breath of fresh air to VW’s vehicle line-up: It combines Chinese consumer taste with European engineering. The entire vehicle was developed outside Germany by Shanghai Volkswagen – a joint venture between VW AG and SAIC. IAV was involved in the project as a development partner with its IAV Ltd. Shanghai subsidiary.
In development terms, the Lavida represents an all-new vehicle body based on an existing VW platform: The entire process chain of developing the vehicle was carried through from the concept and advance engineering phases, across design, computation, prototyping, body and safety testing right through to mass production.
Communication is Everything
Various adaptations were necessary during the course of the project. Ongoing optimization to details demanded intensive cooperation between all of the development departments involved in an endeavor to guarantee efficient, punctual and functional realization. A number of technical boundary conditions also had to be taken into account:
- Alongside the Lavida, a second new vehicle was developed on the same platform with a high percentage of shared components.
- To keep costs down during the course of the project, components and modules of both vehicles were standardized or modules were used that already existed within the VW Group.
- Development expertise constantly needed reconciling with the technical capabilities and capacities of local suppliers, some of which drifted widely from those of European suppliers.
- VW AG in Wolfsburg was responsible for releasing all platform and safety-related developments.
- Volkswagen Group China managed all aspects specific to China.
“This project involved a large number of development partners – making communication, coordination as well as data management particularly demanding”, recalls project manager Frank Strüber from IAV. “This huge challenge had to be surmounted on top of the actual development work that was necessary”.
“Best in Class” on the Vehicle Safety Score
During the course of the project, requirements on the overall vehicle also grew as a result of demands on its safety rising in the face of Chinese consumer testing that was to be expected. As with all VW development projects, the target here was to be “Best in Class” which, given the outstanding level of expertise available in the field of vehicle safety, was achieved.
In addition to providing data on time for producing the tooling, the prototype bodies had to be carefully checked and managed so as to support development testing with conclusive results. Body and crash testing involved examining individual parts, assemblies and the entire vehicle. This also included endurance testing and meeting all of the demands placed on vehicle safety. “As the project progressed, it was important to assist and precisely track pre-production and pilot production“, says Frank Strüber. “This also meant a huge amount of coordination with all of the component suppliers to ensure the design could go into production and be assembled”. In this project phase, component and assembly quality was constantly validated on the overall vehicle together with the quality assurance team. In addition to surface quality, the dimensional accuracy of components is the basic prerequisite for a high-quality product.
The Finishing Touch
This work phase also saw the finishing touches being given to the vehicle: Fine component honing, joint optimization and a precision fit all went to make sure the overall impression was one of superb quality. The electronics were also tested – here as well, IAV’s vast expertise played a key part in ensuring all of the vehicle’s functions were given: Cutting-edge analyzers, such as data logger and reference test stations for validating assemblies, were employed for locating fault sources and defining appropriate counteraction.
While measures of optimization were being implemented in the pre-production phase, final improvements were going on to enhance ride comfort: Based on test drives and component measurements, further significant optimization was possible to the subjective perception of in-vehicle vibration and noise. Effective insulation and damping measures provided a noticeable improvement to general ride comfort. Ensuring this level of quality in production assembly and also maintaining it as production volume increased demanded regular, intensive training of personnel at the assembly stations in mass production.
Win-win Situation for all of the Partners Involved
“Developing the Lavida, SVW has scored a great hit. Together with a highly motivated team and the necessary expertise, IAV did much to secure this success“, Frank Strüber feels. “It was the combination of German and Chinese know-how that drove this turn-key project forward, exemplifying a Sino-German success story.”
Initial responses from press and customers were altogether positive. The late-June launch was a great success on account of the many advance orders, signaling optimism for the future. And while work was going on developing the Lavida, IAV Ltd. Shanghai expanded too. Staff there are working on a series of new projects, recently resulting in the necessity and decision to move to new premises, making IAV’s operation in China an adopted part of IAV’s globe-spanning growth strategy.