Simply Clever solutions are one of the distinctive features of ŠKODA cars and come from the work of the Innovation Management team, which plays a key role in developing innovative functionalities.
Innovation is the driving force behind everything that happens at ŠKODA and involves many people in different departments. The Innovation Management team is focused, in fact, on innovations and is responsible for seeking out, developing, and bringing them into production. The team collects ideas, evaluates them and, when confirmed that they bring added value, quickly puts them into practice.
These solutions must be truly innovative and make life easier for users, making ŠKODAs always on the cutting edge, sometimes even ahead of the times. Some concrete examples? The ice scraper placed in the fuel tank cap, the dedicated tablet holder for rear seat passengers, and the funnel integrated into the washer fluid tank cap.
From left to right: Miloš Jambor, Štefan Pásztor, Michal Krůta and Jan Dědek
Common solutions? Not at all, considering them from the perspective of user experience. The Innovation Management team has also dealt with more complex innovations, such as aerodynamic wheel covers, active air intake adjustment for the radiator, or a sound generator for electric models. The team is always looking for something new, cutting-edge, such as a mobile charging station that uses a hydrogen fuel cell, an electrified axle, or new applications for recycled materials. Right now the team is working on an idea to make gear shifting easier for drivers who use manual transmissions.
Of course, there are several departments within ŠKODA focused on innovation, both digital and on product but it is the Innovation Management department that deals with customers, equipment components, software and specific mechanical solutions.
Innovating is difficult
"The most recent trend is to create complete innovative solutions that integrate hardware and software", says Petr Šedivý, Innovation Management team leader. Usually those involved in innovation do not care whether the new solution will be part of the standard equipment, optional equipment, or will be available as an accessory that can be purchased subsequently.
"We come up with innovations quickly and often run into various limitations, for example, platform-related ones. But we always try to overcome them, to meet the needs of users", explains Šedivý, who then points out that creating innovations is far from easy. "Everyone wants to be innovative, few have the right mindset to do so, and even fewer are prepared for a possible failure".
Petr Šedivý and Pavel Barcal
The Innovation Management team works with all the departments that are responsible for the car's equipment and functions; from each of these comes a colleague who joins the team, so that communication is made easier. The development of innovations takes various forms: sometimes the technical development department takes care of it, sometimes other departments. A good example is the Electrics/Electronics Development unit. "Lately we have been focusing on the development of Simply Clever software functions", explains Pavel Barcal, head of this unit. "These are small innovations that make the daily experience with the car more enjoyable".
These types of innovations have a rather interesting life: "In our work we are very much tied to the Volkswagen Group architecture for electric, so our innovations have to be rolled out at the Group level. Of course, it's not easy, but when we succeed we can extend these innovations to the nearly 10 million cars the Group produces each year", Barcal concludes.
The innovation incubator
Within the Innovation Management team there is a special section called the Innovation Incubator located in Mladá Boleslav. "Our task is not only to come up with innovations, but also to evaluate them as quickly as possible, checking whether they actually make sense in practice", says Lukáš Kendík, Head of the Incubator. "I am not a leader in the traditional sense of the word, and we do not have a classical hierarchy here. My role is more methodical, I am like a coach who communicates, focuses on ideas and makes sure everything is well organized".
It's a slightly different environment than the classic corporate one, and it's specifically meant to foster innovation - there are people who never had responsibility for a project, but here their idea is their project. "They can come to me at any time and I suggest next step for them".
A dynamic team
The Incubator team is also not permanent: "People rotate as needed, depending on where the idea comes from. We also have some students, and we are always looking for new perspectives", Kendík concludes. "This is a great environment to come up with an idea. If it doesn't work, no one will blame it on you", confirms his colleague Miloš Jambor.
Ideas can come in any way. "Sometimes you see something inspiring, perhaps at a trade fair or conference, but inspiration can also come from a specific product that is already on the market or the topic of a thesis", Jambor continues. Of course, the fate of innovations can be very different: only about a third of the ideas that pass through the incubator go on to the next stage of evaluation and development; of those, only about half will become a concrete solution.
From theory to practice
Some innovations are very challenging to implement. "It also applies to small things. When we want to develop a new holder for the car’s interior, for example, we also have to consider quality and safety, which must always meet our standards, because they are indispensable requirements", Jambor points out.
The Innovation Incubator in Mladá Boleslav is a kind of laboratory where anything can be tested. "If we think an idea is good, we quickly prepare a model with which we check whether it makes sense", resumes Jambor, who then explains how this speed does not come at the expense of collaboration with the design department. "If what you come up with is not only practical but also looks good right away, it has a better chance of success", Jambor concludes.
Innovation and design
Jan Dědek is responsible for acting as a liaison between the innovation team and the design department and assessing the feasibility of the designers' ideas; in some cases, even ensuring that the final solution reflects the designers' intentions.
Sometimes the incubator can move an idea forward very quickly, as happened with the illuminated Crystal Face on the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV. "The idea was born between the design team and the electrical solutions development team, but with the standard process it would have taken too long to get to production", Dědek says. Thus, the incubator turned out to be the ideal choice: the first model and prototype were built here, and within just three months of the initial idea, the final design was created.
The rapid workshop
Inside the Innovation Incubator there is a workshop that allows many jobs to be carried out quickly, from cutting all sorts of materials to welding. There is also a demonstration car, built to show possible ways of using recycled materials. "We took a discarded car after testing, ready to be scrapped. We disassembled it and, working with the development department and suppliers, we made components using alternative materials and then assembled them here in the workshop", proudly tells Štefan Pásztor, from the prototype construction department.
In short, the incubator is the place where any idea can succeed, but innovation is also constant throughout ŠKODA's departments. "The incubator is a perfect environment to innovate but of course not everyone has to follow this pattern to develop their innovations. Many continue to work in their own units, in a way quite similar to ours", concludes Michal Krůta, another technical development representative within the incubator.
VGI | Responsible OU: VP | Creation date: article date | Class 9.1