Conventional wisdom dictates that global automotive manufacturers maintain their strong competitive edge through establishing themselves as technological leaders, marveling consumers through the introduction of high-tech systems, gadgets and applications to the modern vehicle.
For small and medium enterprises, establishing research & development (R&D) capabilities is a daunting task, as the massive investments required can potentially harm the cash flow of even the most profiting of ventures.
However, many businesses within the industry have yet to tap the potential of the single largest resource of knowledge – the academic circle.
It is common to see the top performing automotive manufacturers integrating academia into their R&D processes.
In 2004, Audi established a strategic collaboration with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), which brought more than 100 PhD students close to Audi’s headquarters in Ingolstadt.
The collaboration, named the Ingolstadt Institute of TU Munich, led to a steady flow of innovations into the carmaker’s products and production lines, including lightweight constructions, suspension technologies and innovative management solutions.
The company doubled its car production volume between 2006 and last year changed perceptions of being the “Poor man’s BMW”, to becoming a strong contender within the global luxury segment.
Industry-academic collaboration creates a much needed symbiosis, particularly when the working styles of both sectors defer, but may develop stronger results when synergized appropriately.
The academics’ training make them well versed in the methodology of scientific study, which is vital to fill in the knowledge gaps of the fast paced, high intensity working style seen in the industry.
More importantly, the collaboration benefits both parties from the perspective of cost barriers. Many universities are publicly funded, or receive grants from public sources – which means many problems faced by the industry can be solved through budgets that are pre-approved, further reducing the costs and risks of investing into R&D.
Another key aspect is human capital development. Recent opinions from the industry allude to the notion that university graduates are not meeting the expectations of the industry, and that these graduates are an “over-academic” product that needs to be upskilled to meet these expectations.
Industry-academic collaboration tackles this problem at its root, as university syllabus is constantly matched to industry needs through constant input between the collaborating parties.
These collaborations may eventually lead to industry-led apprenticeship programmes – where a student is as much an employee of the industry as he or she is a student. This double exposure model is best seen within the German automotive industry today, which boasts more than one million apprentices currently developing careers in the country that is responsible for the global marques of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen.
The Skill Development Fund under the 11th Malaysian Plan has been given an allocation of RM1 billion to develop the targeted 1.5 million skilled jobs in Malaysia by 2020.
Through the National Automotive Policy 2014 (NAP 2014), Malaysian Automotive Human Capital Roadmap and Malaysia Automotive Technology Roadmap, MAI is constantly engaging with both industry and academia to boost collaborative efforts between these parties with the aim of expediting the technology and human capital development within the domestic automotive ecosystem.
MAI is willing to facilitate all automotive related technology collaboration between industry players and academic circles, and I urge all parties to heed the call to make technological leadership a priority at all levels within the industry.