Ned Curic, Stellantis' chief technology officer, has deep experience both inside and outside of the auto industry. Before joining the automaker in 2021, he was vice president, Alexa automotive, at Amazon and had also worked at Toyota and Microsoft. As of July 1, Curic's responsibilities have expanded to include engineering and R&D. Curic spoke to Automotive News Europe News Editor Peter Sigal on the sidelines of the ANE Congress in Paris on June 14 about the technological challenges ahead.
You will take on more responsibilities with the retirement of Harald Wester, who was head of engineering. What will your job entail?
So before, I was responsible for all future technologies, future platforms, in some cases things we were working on eight to 10 years out. But after July 1, it will include all existing platforms and vehicles, everything from engineering to actually shipping the vehicles. So the job got immensely bigger. We decided to reorganize the team a little bit, with Sebastien Jacquet as my deputy taking more operational responsibility for existing programs so I can continue to spend time on future programs.
Speaking of future technologies, how is Stellantis going to manage the decline of the combustion engine market and the rise of electric vehicles?
We have to respond to market conditions. We see Europe moving really, really quickly, so our goal is that by 2030 100 percent of our vehicles in Europe will be electric, while in North America we see very big growth, but it's not going to be 100 percent electric. Our goal there to be 50 percent electric, and we believe there will be enough demand for that level. There are certain markets where electric vehicles are not going to sell as much, such as the Middle East, Africa and South America. But we’re well prepared for that sort of a balance between different market conditions and we’re ready to respond to any changes.
Would Stellantis consider setting up an entity just to build combustion engines, similar to what Renault and Geely are planning?
Carlos Tavares [Stellantis CEO] has been asked that question, and his answer is consistently no. I think it's a distraction, so [we] don’t have people who stay in internal combustion feeling obsolete. It's very disruptive for organizations to do those kind of carve-outs. In many ways, it looks good on paper, but I think from the perspective of operational responsibility and ability to scale, it's actually not conducive to the business.
One of the most talked-about new technologies is generative AI. How could it affect the buying and driving experience for Stellantis vehicles?
Let’s say you are researching a vehicle like the Jeep Wrangler. With generative AI, you could imagine a scenario by which you go to the Jeep website and say, Tell me what the Wrangler can do for me. You can have a conversational interaction, for example I want to see what the Rubicon Trail looks like with me in the Jeep Wrangler. And on the in-vehicle experience, we already have decided to have an ambient agent inside the vehicle with our new [SmartCockpit] platform. Now, that ambient agent just became far more powerful with generative AI.
Do you mean an avatar?
Yes, like an avatar, but it’s ambient, so you can't see it, like Siri or Alexa, but more powerful with generative AI.
Mapping would be a use that comes to mind.
Yes, mapping or entertainment. Today you can do a lot of things with Alexa or Siri, but you cannot have a really deep conversation. Those agents forget about intent. And generative AI doesn't. It remembers your intent and it sort of just follows up naturally in conversation. You can give the agent personality, ask it to speak to you in a funny tone or a scary tone. I think we'll have a lot of fun and remove friction for customers. It will give them plenty of delights but also usefulness.
One of the catchphrases in the automotive world is the “software defined vehicle.” What does that mean to you?
There's so many different definitions. For me, at the end of the day, we actually build a vehicle -- let’s call it hardware -- that goes 100 mph if you want it to. It's a very sophisticated piece of machinery, and then inside the vehicle is sophisticated software that controls the functions of the vehicle, with a lot of computing power on one side. On the second side you have the ability in the cloud to create a version of that vehicle that manifests itself in a very simulated environment, a digital twin. Then to close the circle, you can design the vehicle in a completely simulated software environment, and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. And then you say, OK, I'm going to produce this vehicle now. I'm going to have a physical manifestation of this vehicle. And now it's defined by this simulation, by the software and the software that goes in this vehicle. So that's sort of what it is.