The StreetScooter is a $7000 EV with a 74 mph top speed and 80 mile range. It relies on leased batteries and uses a heat pump for heating and air conditioning, and shipping company DHL has already ordered 3,500 of them — but the most interesting thing about the vehicle is how it came to be.
What began as a partnership of 10 companies has grown to a collaboration among more than 50 auto parts suppliers, tech companies and software developers. Each one of them had a hand not only in building the StreetScooter, but in creating it.
Traditionally, cars are built from a top-down approach. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) designs a vehicle and dictates design requirements to suppliers. There’s back-and-forth, but it’s clear who is in charge. Unfortunately, the process can overlook what efficiencies supply chains offer.
“The problem with this approach is that there are huge additional amounts of innovative ideas in the supply chain that could not be followed given this type of OEM focused development,” said Prof. Achim Kampker of Aachen University. He’s the managing director of the StreetScooter project, which implemented a collaborative approach that took into account the entire vehicle from design to disposal.
In business school jargon, that’s called product lifecycle management, or PLM. Each of the collaborators on the project was organized into a lead engineering group (LEG), made up of the foremost experts in each of the vehicle’s components including the exterior, powertrain and electronics.
“Everyone is on par with each other. Everyone can bring in ideas to radically try whatever makes sense. The subject matter expert comes to the table and collaborates with the other LEGs,” said Kampker. “In case of a conflict that cannot be resolved, the issue is sent to the team of leaders in program management and it is resolved at that level.”
The method that participants took to build the StreetScooter echoes the car’s design. It’s a modular vehicle, with parts that can be added, removed and reused depending on customer preference. Even the batteries are leased separately so that fleets don’t have to deal with maintenance. Kampker says that relying on the strengths of individual manufacturers to create their own modules doesn’t just maximize customizability, but also allows the StreetScooter to be built quickly and inexpensively.
“Individual functions are each integrated in a module and offer the possibility to adjust the vehicle to the individual needs of the buyer before and after the sale,” Kampker said. “The ability to reuse the components in the various models and in another vehicle also leads to significant increase in production volumes at an early stage.”
Despite a team that was made up of members from different countries who spoke different languages, despite each participating company having its own interests at heart and despite a collaborative approach that had never been tried before to build an EV, the StreetScooter was developed in about a year. It’ll be hitting the streets in Germany in the spring of next year, and there are plans to bring it to the US later on. Kampker thinks that was only possible thanks to the unique approach that put all participants on par with each other.
Could a traditional approach have yielded the same results? “In general yes, but rather than taking 12 months for the first physical prototype to be delivered, it may have taken 12 years,” Kampker said.