Martin Winterkorn, left, is Volkswagen's vice president for research and development based in Wolfsburg. Automotive News Europe reporter Georg Auer spoke to him about the current deluge of new models at VW, and the company's future engine policy.
A real flood of new models is coming from the Volkswagen group. How do the research and development engineers manage to transform (VW Chairman Ferdinand) Piech's flow of ideas into real cars?
Dr. Piech not only has ideas - but he also helps us to realize them. He makes sure we are provided with the right environment for our work - whether that means extra money, or machinery, or making quick decisions. He is not the sort of boss who leaves ideas behind him. He works with us to realize them.
Add to this our platform strategy. It is easier to build a new car on an existing platform than to create a new platform. That is the reason why we can produce one car after another.
Take the Golf platform. It now has at least a dozen roles. Many different cars have been derived from it. Now we are pushing forward with the next platform - for the Polo class, which is being first used for the new Skoda Fabia.
But technology is only one side of the picture. The main thing is the atmosphere, the climate that is necessary to get real team work. It has to be fun to work -otherwise there'll be no creativity.
There are so many different engine systems to choose from nowadays. You have just presented your FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) system (VW's own gasoline direct injection technology). What's special about FSI?
It is the first gasoline direct injection system to run with stratified charge without enrichment. We are also using patents from Toyota but the main innovation is our own combustion process and our specially developed DeNox catalyst.
In the big discussion about whether to use a high pressure unit injection system or common rail direct injection, we have no religious creed. We use them both. Audi mainly uses common rail, and Volkswagen mainly unit injection. A company of the size of VW must be able to afford two different, very costly techniques.
How do you cope with ever-decreasing development times?
It is very important for us developers to get fast decisions from top executives. Nothing is worse than waiting for a decision for a long time.
How much more development time can be cut out of the process?
There is a natural limit to how far you can cut development time. It still takes 12 months to produce a tool for shaping the side of a car. Some tools take 15 months to make.
We reckon it takes 18 months to reach the production stage from the moment you sign off the master mock-up. But it is so difficult to compare development times. Each company has a different way of working this out. Modern computerized working methods have been decisive in radically cutting down development time and cost. New and faster methods are constantly being developed.
Piech is known to be rather impatient. Is VW's development of new models fast enough for him?
I think so, yes. If something goes wrong, he sees the problem as a technician, and agrees it will take a few days longer.
Does he sketch the way he wants the car shaped?
He's more likely to sketch an engine than a car shape. When it comes to car shapes he likes to have the model in front of him. But if it comes to the crankshaft of an V-8 engine, he will sketch that freehand while standing up. But he has what we call in Germany the 'right nose' for shaping a car. We talk first about the shape of the car - and only afterward about the cost.