Automotive engineers around the world – including in Australia – are pushing ahead with development of future models to make sure the wheels of the industry don’t grind to another halt once the global pandemic is over and mass production of vehicles resumes.
Many car engineers already took their work home with them before the lockdowns – commuting to and from their office in top secret prototypes, or testing equipment under the bonnet or inside the car that can’t be spotted by curious eyes.
However, since the outbreak of the global pandemic, many car companies across Europe and North America – and right here in Australia – have assigned engineers to continue to work on future vehicles from home.
Locally, Ford employs about 1500 designers and engineers in Melbourne who work primarily on Chinese market models or global models such as the Ranger pick-up.
While not everyone on the team can take their work home with them (such as those in the emissions lab, pictured below), most Ford engineers are still able to do their day job – and many are able to work remotely.
Ford Australia declined to comment on what types of future models the company might be working on locally during the pandemic.
However, CarAdvice understands the blue oval brand’s domestic engineering efforts are likely focused on bringing the US market Ford Bronco and global version of the next generation Ford Ranger to life. Both are due in showrooms within the next two years.
Another example of developing vehicles from home was recently highlighted by US website CNN Business, who interviewed an engineer working on the Mustang Mach E electric SUV.
CNN Business reported that Ford had assigned about a dozen Mustang Mach E prototypes “as well as computer equipment and other gear so they could keep working from their basements, living rooms, garages and neighbourhood streets.”
The website interviewed Ford engineer Aleyna Kapur (pictured below), whose job it is to make sure software that controls the vehicle’s electric motors works with the intended levels of refinement.
Kapur told CNN Business about half her time is spent behind the wheel gathering real-world data, while the balance can be done in her office on computer.
“Generally, I would say I’m in the vehicle at least once a day, but there's still quite a lot that we get done online," Kapur told CNN Business.
Back home, while Holden is in the process of winding down its local design and engineering operations (pictured below in 1948), Toyota’s Australian research and development arm is largely dedicated to designing heavy duty accessories – such as bull bars – to factory quality standards.
CarAdvice understands it is largely business as usual at Toyota’s Melbourne-based research and development facility during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
While Toyota also would not reveal what projects it is working on, CarAdvice understands the local division would be in the final stages of finishing the development work on accessories for the updated HiLux due in local showrooms in late July.
Because of the complexity of developing a new vehicle, car engineers often work on prototypes for up to five years before the model is due in showrooms, which is one of the reasons the industry cannot afford to hit the brakes, and must try to continue the engineering work during the COVID-19 lockdowns so there are no delays on future models.
In the meantime, the car industry is getting ready to slowly ramp up production at factories around the world in the wake of the crisis, although it may be some months before the majority of them return to full capacity.