Vehicles of the Future: Making Cars Smarter, Safer, and Greener

Vehicles of the Future: Making Cars Smarter, Safer, and Greener

Below is an interview between David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum, and Rich Sturgeon, Senior Director, Transportation and Mobility at Dassault Systèmes which was originally published by Authority Magazine.


The automotive industry has been disrupted recently with new exciting technologies that have made cars and trucks much smarter, much safer, and much more sustainable and more environmentally friendly.

What other exciting disruptive technologies will we see in the next few years? How much longer will fossil fuel powered cars be produced? When will we see fully autonomous vehicles? Can we overcome the challenge of getting stuck in traffic? As cars become “moving computers”, do we have to worry about people hacking our cars? How else will our driving experience be different over the next five years? To address these questions, Authority Magazine started a new interview series about “Exciting Leading Edge Technologies That Are Making Cars & Trucks Smarter, Safer, and More Sustainable.” In this series we are talking to leaders of automotive companies, automotive tech companies, EV companies, and other tech leaders who can talk about the vehicles of the future. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Sturgeon, Senior Director, Transportation and Mobility Industry for Dassault Systèmes.

Rick Sturgeon is Senior Director, Transportation and Mobility Industry for Dassault Systèmes, and is focused on providing strategic direction for products and services that will improve the customer experience. He is especially interested in automotive mobility, electrification and autonomous validation. Prior to joining Dassault Systèmes, Sturgeon served as Executive Director of Global Engineering Operations at Johnson Controls supporting global sourcing, seating, interiors and electronics development teams. Earlier, Sturgeon held positions at General Motors Corporation as Director of Global IT Operations, and IT Security; Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Cummins Engine Company; and Vice President of Information Technology and CIO at General Instruments (Motorola). He earned degrees in electrical engineering and chemical engineering from the Ohio State University and is a registered Professional Engineer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in the automotive industry?

Myfirst job in the automotive industry was as an Advanced Manufacturing Engineer making 1 million Autolite and Motocraft spark plugs a day. In time, we automated that manufacturing plant from very high labor to fully automatic. Manufacturing is where it all comes together in automotive, and a great place to start a career. Over time I moved from manufacturing to product engineering to IT and then back to engineering at various automotive companies making electronics, diesel engines, interiors/seating, and complete vehicles. I also spent a few years at KPMG helping our automotive customers identify, justify and implement their product lifecycle management (PLM) & e-commerce projects, allowing me to get a complete industry view. I joined Dassault Systèmes six years ago and have had the opportunity to help many of the most innovative automotive companies take the industry to the next level as we develop a sustainable future together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There have been many interesting stories, but one that is very relevant today was a lesson in how difficult it is for companies to see, believe and plan for the future.

When I was at KPMG just before 2000, e-commerce was the new disrupter, and I was a Practice Director helping automotive and industrial companies plan their e-commerce strategies. KPMG was a leader helping the early adopters like Cisco, Microsoft and GE plan their e-commerce strategies. These strategy engagements cumulated in a two-day session with the company president and direct leaders evaluating and deciding on a strategy for their company — often a commerce website or marketplace. This isn’t rocket science today, but back then, the majority of these very successful business leaders at the top of their companies told me, “This was a wasted two days, no one will ever buy products on the Internet.” They could not fathom at the time how a new technology could change their businesses. Now, the web is a critical component.

I see the same phenomena today as early adopters understand the power of a fully-integrated product development system on the cloud. These early adopters are abandoning their outdated legacy systems and processes, achieving previously unattainable global collaboration, using integrated simulation leveraging virtual twins, and gaining huge time to market and overall cost advantages. That said, many legacy companies continue to hold onto their outdated processes and systems.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

The drive to create electric autonomous vehicles operating in a smart city with yet-to-be imagined mobility applications will change how we live. From new materials for light-weighting, to better acoustics/aerodynamics, to modeling a battery-driven powertrain, and then incorporating all the elements of connected/autonomous vehicle tech into cars, we’re seeing a ton of innovation in the automotive space. While we have the previous 100 years of experience to inform us, the potential for true innovation has never been greater.

Let’s say in five-10 years, a fully autonomous driving system is ready for market. How do you design the interior of a car if there isn’t a steering wheel required? It’s an exciting time to re-imagine all the conventional wisdom of vehicle design.

Diverse experiences will drive mobility. Different environments in the city, logistics and various requirements will necessitate a systems approach to measure vehicle durability, cost of ownership, and usage.

All this innovation is being supercharged with our new cloud-based, fully integrated product development systems. We call it model-based development where product designers work together globally on the cloud from early design through manufacturing and service — all working on a unified database with integrated simulation to optimize the virtual twin of the product, manufacturing system, and operating environment.

How do you think this might change the world?

Scientifically accurate simulation is the key to unlocking all this innovation. In prior years, someone might have had a great idea, but wouldn’t truly know if it would work until they built a physical prototype and tested it. That was a long and very expensive process. Simulation allows us to build fully-fledged digital components, or a virtual twin of an entire car, and put ideas to the test before spending anything on manufacturing.

The virtual twin is enabling manufacturers to make iterative improvements instead of multi-year overhauls and bringing those improvements to market much faster. Modeling and simulation (MODSIM) and collaboration will change the order of magnitude of the speed of development. More broadly, it will change life in the city and sustainability (e.g., CO2 per trip).

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Overall, autonomous vehicles will increase traffic, and cars will become more expensive and exclusive. The challenge is to keep in mind how people’s lives are being improved.

There will always be a place for physical prototypes and physical testing to meet industry certification requirements, and that’s a good thing! But, by the time a company is building a physical prototype, they’re already sure they have a certification-ready design, and a not a design they’re hoping will work. The only potential downside is if manufacturers focus on the tech capabilities, and lose sight of the actual user experience, but I don’t see that happening.

I think the bigger opportunity for misgivings is around autonomous driving. Autonomous driving will require complex systems with multiple layers of driver assistance before we get to the point of fully executing it. That end-state is still several decades away for everyday cars, but we’ll see steps toward autonomous driving in controlled lanes in cities and long-haul trucking sooner than we think.

What are a few things that most excite you about the automotive industry as it is today? Why?

We are starting down the path to provide clean, fun and affordable mobility to all on the planet!

The growing focus on sustainability (e.g., CO2 reduction) is starting to really take hold. Today’s electric vehicles (EVs) take many tens of thousands of miles to breakeven with an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle on CO2 emissions when you consider the amount of CO2 released from the whole supply chain, battery manufacturing, electricity production, etc. The automotive industry and governments are starting to look at the end-to-end problem and taking action.

At Dassault Systèmes, we are focusing on helping our customers understand and design their products, factories and services to model and optimize for sustainability. This helps to ensure a sustainable future for our customers as well as for our planet.

Sustainability sounds obvious, but it’s actually very difficult to execute in practice. Only a continuing optimization using a virtual twin of the product, materials, production processes, operating environment and customer experience will provide the sustainability improvements we all expect.

What are a few things that most concern you about the automotive industry as it is today? What must be done to address these challenges?

Short-term costs, charging and component shortages will continue to cause issues in 2022.

However, my long-term passion is to help reduce the 40,000 auto accident deaths in the U.S. (primarily from driver error) by accelerating the implementation of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous technologies available to us today.

Perceived safety of autonomous vehicle technology and our ability as a society to allow the industry to work through early accidents will become the biggest challenge in Western countries, especially the U.S. The new ADAS/autonomous features can significantly reduce this number but will most likely have some failures as they mature. We are in an exponential business, so the more vehicles on the road, the faster the technology will improve. There will be a tipping point and it’s only a matter of when we will achieve it.

Based on your vantage point as an insider in the automotive industry, what other exciting disruptive technologies will we see in the next few years? Can you share some of the new developments that will make vehicles smarter, safer, and more sustainable?

The integration of AI into all aspects of our products as well as automatic scheduling and optimizing our automotive trips will change how we interact with the cities we live in. Additionally, the move to hydrogen commercial vehicles and the shift to EVs will become much more obvious in the next few years.

However, the most obvious change will be from the consumer’s point of view as the many yet to be imagined mobility applications enabled by the integration of the vehicle, the city, and the associated cloud applications become available. Today, we have a few mobility applications (primarily routing maps), but remember when the mobile phone came out with its 10 applications and we could not imagine what more there could be? All aspects of life, work, shopping, entertainment and connection will change. Think of it as how a smartphone compares to a landline. This is how future mobility will redefine the way we live in cities. Future mobility applications will have just as big of an impact on our lives as smartphones made in just a few years.

In your opinion, how much longer will fossil fuel powered cars be produced? When do you think EVs will be the majority of vehicles in use? Can you explain?

Manufacturers are moving away from ICE vehicles, but I don’t see them truly disappearing for decades. There will always be a market for them until we are able to develop a power infrastructure to support EV charging. In addition, the price of battery tech continues to improve and solid-state batteries are starting to become more affordable which will make EVs more palatable and affordable for widespread consumption. For many high-powered use cases and in developing countries, there may always be a need for ICE vehicles.

For owned vehicles, the number of existing constraints is too high for quick transition, but for dedicated usage, ride hailing, last-mile shuttle, last-mile delivery, and long-range public transportation means, EV and fuel cell (FC) will prevail quickly. The transition from one model to another that will depend on where it’s happening and who’s in charge.

When do you think we will see fully autonomous vehicles deployed in a mainstream way? What do you think are the main barriers to reaching that stage?

Autonomous driving and electrification appear to be linked. We’re approaching mainstream deployment now for EVs, but the main barriers are charging infrastructures that are accessible (hopefully with vendor-agnostic chargers) and will inspire confidence in the public that when their battery is low, they can find a charging station without becoming stranded. Another barrier is the battery technology’s performance and affordability.

As for autonomous vehicle deployment, in cities with controlled environments, this may come soon. Otherwise, we will see a continuing deployment of advanced ADAS to protect us as we drive, but for full autonomous, as stated earlier, we first must develop and put into law the standards for autonomous vehicle verification and validation. I am on several Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) committees working on these standards, but the legislation and the testing methods still need to solidify. Without legislation and the maturity of all the sensors and AI, there is no basis for product liability defense in court in western countries. It will take many years and depends on use cases that will be driven by individual countries.

How else will our driving experience be different over the next five years?

In five years, it will be largely the same. There will be more EVs on the road and more charging stations along highways, but no fundamental changes. People will certainly become more accustomed to driving electric or hybrid vehicles, which can take some adjustment. The instant-on torque of an electric motor takes drivers from 0–60 miles per hour very quickly, and they will need to learn how to not inadvertently spin their tires!

I think the biggest change we’ll see in five years is that there will be a much larger range of car purchase options available from dedicated EV-only cars to EV or hybrid options for traditional ICE-driven cars. In many cases, advanced ADAS features will be in place, preventing us from making driving errors and significantly increasing safety. Additionally, mobility as a service (MAAS) will develop in some areas (e.g., consumers will not own their own cars).

My expertise is in product security, so I’m particularly interested in this question. Recently there were famous cases of hackers breaking into the software running automobiles, for ransomware or for other malicious purposes. Based on your experience, what should auto companies do to uncover vulnerabilities in the development process to safeguard their vehicles?

Automotive product security is evolving. So far, we have experienced few incidents, but as we add more software to our vehicles and integrate them into smart cities and mobility applications, risks will exponentially increase. There are several evolving standards for automotive vehicle protection from hackers. The automotive designers are just beginning to focus on these issues.

On the positive side, the move in many automotive companies to a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) development methodology — a technology from the aerospace and defense industry — allows for specifying and managing complex systems, including integral software security from the beginning. This approach has not been used in our current IT and web systems that are regularly hacked and may provide the methodology to provide better protection of our connected automotive ecosystem.

In recent times, many auto manufacturers have introduced over-the-air (OTA) services that can potentially give hackers an entry point into the inner systems of the vehicles. Based on your experience, what can vehicle manufacturers do to respond to cyber-attacks?

Preventing cyber-attacks will always be a problem. Designing in protection, keeping security patches up to date, constant monitoring and instant response are the tools that seem to work, but are very costly. We need major improvements in our ability to identify the hackers, collect evidence and prosecute them. This is the bedrock to reducing the number of incidents, and a fundamental tenet of security that the Internet is failing on today. Hopefully, we will do better as we develop the system-critical security needed for our automotive future.

What are your “5 Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Career in the Automotive Industry?

  • Get real experience from the start with manufacturing or testing: Once I was told to redesign a manufacturing line, but before I was allowed to start, I had to work on each of the stations of the line as a laborer for one week. At first it was hard to keep up, but after a while I started to think someone should fix all these problems, and I realized that was me.
  • Continue to learn throughout your career: Engineers like to implement change as long as they do not need to change. When putting in new systems, I always made the change agent of the new process or system be the direct boss of the people who needed to use the new process or system. I often promoted younger workers over more experienced workers, and this always seemed to work for everyone. Be the change agent for understanding and drive to the new learnings. Be ready for disruption and career changes because mobility and automotive will not be the same in the future. There will be more breakthrough and business revolutions in the next 10 years than I experienced in my 40-year career.
  • Always focus on the customer and their needs: When I was at General Instruments and we were implementing one of the first downloadable games to TVs from the Internet, we brought in a bunch of 12-year-olds to test. I watched a PhD colleague argue with a bunch of 12-year-olds, the customers, on why they did not understand how the system was supposed to work. Always follow the customer.
  • As your career develops make sure you train your direct reports to take your job: I always did weekly one-on-one meetings with my direct reports. We tracked the normal issues, but also the long-term development needs they were working on with my help with the goal of taking my job. This kept them moving up or out.
  • Learn how to create a credible business case and present to management: I used to pitch projects on the elevator to one of the presidents of a company where I worked. The questions I answered were simple:
  • What is the problem?
  • How are we going to fix it?
  • How much will we save?
  • How much will it cost?
  • If it is a yes, why can’t we have it now?

Those questions and that type of presentation are how business decisions are made. Of course, months of due diligence follow, but to be successful, the credibility in your business case and your delivery to the affected parties needs to be flawless.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m not sure if I’m a person of great influence, but here’s some advice that I have always followed:

  • Always do what is right. That gets harder the higher you go in a company.
  • Listen to advice from others. Argue your points, but in the end, listen, and take other valid views into account.
  • Never give up. When you keep going and push forward, things can turn out better than expected.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For more information, readers can check out our Transportation and Mobility Industry pages, follow Dassault Systèmes on LinkedIn and Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.