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The future of Volkswagen from Silicon Valley

For more than two decades, Volkswagen Group of America has been researching the future of mobility in Silicon Valley. Volkswagen founded a centre of excellence, originally known as Electronics Research Laboratory, in Belmont near San Francisco to tap into the innovation and spirit of Silicon Valley. The corporation was one of the first automotive manufacturers to establish a cross-functional team in Silicon Valley.

What started out with three employees in 1998 has no become the Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC). To date, the IECC has spawned dozens of innovations for Volkswagen vehicles all over the world, and more than 250 patent applications.

The IECC has long been one of Volkswagen’s most important innovation hubs on the West Coast of the USA, and has four main objectives: research innovations in mobility, apply artificial intelligence and digital solutions to business challenges, develop key technologies for autonomous systems, and find ways to improve sustainability through new materials and decarbonisation.

“We’re proud of the technological accomplishments our Silicon Valley team continues to lead and build for Volkswagen,” said Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, Executive Vice President and Chief Engineering Officer at Volkswagen Group of America. “For more than 20 years, the IECC has been a key driver behind our efforts to combine our automotive expertise and creative spirit. The IECC allows us to continuously deliver first-to-market innovations and a leading user experience for our customers across the U.S. and around the globe.”

Some 200 scientists, engineers, designers and other specialists work at the IECC. The hub is divided into two areas: Innovation Center California (ICC) and Engineering Center California (ECC). The ICC is part of the international association of Volkswagen’s Group Innovation and plays a key role worldwide in developing new technologies for the whole group.

The ICC draws on its close connections with start-ups, U.S. universities and research facilities in the United States, such as in Stanford or Oak Ridge. The Innovation Hub Knoxville is also part of the ICC, and its focus is on sustainable materials and new charging technologies.

“Our goal is to drive the transformation of Volkswagen into a software-driven automotive company,” said Marcus Brand, Vice President of the ICC. “Being in Silicon Valley provides us with huge opportunities to drive innovations into millions of vehicles.”

For example, the teams in Belmont have been researching how artificial intelligence could help the advancement of autonomous driving, improve battery health or develop new materials for even more sustainable products. Experts at the ICC have also developed virtual and augmented reality tools that are now being used by Volkswagen designers and factory engineers. Their findings will also help make autonomous vehicles a reality through the development of methods for processing huge volumes of data and in the area of machine learning.

“In touch with American customers”

“Our job is to think outside the box, make our own innovative ideas usable and closely monitor which new technologies are emerging in America - and, ultimately, globally. Then we will think about which of these we need to embrace for Volkswagen in the context of future mobility solutions, bundle these in a lighthouse project and apply them,” said Brand. “We will then strengthen our technical competencies in these areas.”

The Center of Excellence NAR Battery recently established by Volkswagen Group Components is also linked to the ICC. This sees the Volkswagen Group add another important element to its battery expertise in America as part of the electrification strategy.

The importance of the ECC for Volkswagen Group products in North America continues to grow. The development engineers there are working on integrating the latest functions into the vehicle platforms, modules and models. This involves the electrified vehicle architectures of the future, smart infotainment functions and digital services. The explicit goal of the ECC team is to maintain the Volkswagen Group’s position as a leader in technology.

The work starts with the design of new functions that focus on the local needs and preferences of customers in the United States in particular – from driver assistance systems, through the intelligent cockpit, to smarter interior sensors. The teams make use of the full range of modern systems and methods for analysis, tests and realising functions.

The work of the ECC flows into almost every vehicle that Volkswagen Group of America sells in the region. This includes electric cars like the new Volkswagen ID.41 and future electric models.

The work of the ECC flows into almost every vehicle that Volkswagen Group of America sells in the region. This includes electric cars like the new Volkswagen ID.41 and future electric models.

“In Belmont, we have always been in touch with American customers and closely linked with development partners in Silicon Valley. The digitalisation of the vehicles and all their related services is the biggest change we’ve ever been a part of,” said Jochen Jencquel, Vice President of the ECC. “We’re working on this with a large number of Volkswagen development engineers in North America and globally. Together, we want to bring our vision of software-based functionality in the car of the future to life.”

“Everyone wants to do their bit”

The expert teams in Belmont are also designing the next generation of interior concepts. They are researching how the interior controls and human-machine interface will need to change when a vehicle has more self-driving functions.

Chuhee Lee, Vice President of Technology and Strategy at the IECC, was one of the first employees hired. Still at the innovation hub today, Lee says that the IECC with the huge range of services of its two branches offers a unique career opportunity for developers, researchers and others.

“The scale of what we can do at Volkswagen, especially at Volkswagen Group with nearly 10 million vehicles sold around the world in a single year, is enormous,” said Lee. “Everybody at the IECC wants to do their bit and make a real-world impact, and we can offer that.”

Fuel consumption

1 ID.4 – power consumption in kWh/100 km (NEFZ): 16.9–15.5 (combined); CO₂ emissions in g/km: 0; efficiency rating: A+

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