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Innovation as a mindset, talent as the future

by Mikel Lorente

Few sectors are as committed to innovation and talent as the automotive sector, now called mobility. Innovation is understood as a change of attitude, a willingness to integrate knowledge in an accelerated way. Talent is the ability to create, attract and develop the capabilities of people, of today’s and tomorrow’s professionals. 

This requires a certain climate that facilitates both objectives in an organised and natural way. There is nothing better than the example of the environment itself to set the guidelines for behavior in these important matters. 

But this does not come out of nowhere. For an ecosystem to come about, there must be instruments that unite and strengthen the different elements scattered within a physical and virtual environment. 

This is the case with AIC-Automotive Intelligence Center, a young project less than 15 years old, which has become the ideal place to co-develop world-class capabilities.  

This is because AIC is a European centre of value generation for the automotive sector based on a concept of open innovation where companies strengthen their competitiveness through cooperation. 

This distinctive concept is market-oriented, integrating activities of a different nature in different areas: people, developing the best professionals; processes, leading advanced technologies; and products, driving the requirements of future vehicles. 

In this sense, it is equipped with modern facilities of more than 60 thousand square meters, where the resident companies can deploy their activities and take advantage of the center’s equipment, as well as the knowledge that is generated among the different team members that make up the centre. 

Within its activities, AIC meets all the strategic needs of the automotive sector: competitive intelligence, analyzing different future scenarios of the automotive sector; training, preparing automotive professionals in different qualifications; research, researching priority areas for the sector and for companies; industrial development, developing new industrial initiatives from their initial stages; and new business, supporting all those initiatives that add value to the sector by attracting projects in those areas that are fundamental to the future of the industry. 

To date, 32 organisations from nine countries have joined the project. It also has a wide network of international collaborators with other agencies. In short, a place to innovate and develop talent. 

To better understand its activities, we have the founder and CEO of the centre, Inés Anitua. 

Would you explain your approach to innovation?  

AIC has developed its idea of innovation in a very particular way: an innovation that is not only technological, but much more comprehensive. To this end, AIC has developed capabilities in different areas that it understands to be key to accelerating innovation, such as competitive intelligence, applied research, training and industrial development, all integrated into a single pack/one-stop-shop that allows it to know precisely where it is heading and at what pace.  

How is this innovation structured?  

Our objective is first to understand what is happening in the different areas of knowledge in order to be able to analyse in real time where industry is heading and how it affects companies. We have a very practical view of things because there is a bottom line behind any organisation that needs to be taken care of. It’s not innovation for innovation’s sake. And controlling the timing is very important.  

What are the most important knowledge streams?  

Participating in organisations such as INSIDE, ERTRAC, 2ZERO and other international partnerships gives us a very accurate overview of what is happening. In addition, companies with very different characteristics also enrich our reality and support our strategic decisions on where to move forward. That is why, in recent years, we have been opening our scope from the more traditional aspects to electrification, electronics and software approaches...  

What do you see as the main challenges?  

Interestingly, talent is one of the lines that we look after the most because we know that it is people who make the difference. In this sense, we want new professionals to emerge with the qualities that we consider fundamental, such as ambition, love of risk, ability to adapt to change, multicultural mindset, etc.  

And from a technological standpoint?  

We are facing extremely complex times in which regulatory impulses, changes in consumer mentality, brutal competition from other non-European countries and the geostrategic chaos in which we find ourselves make the challenges all the more formidable.  

In a context of vehicles becoming increasingly electric, automated, connected and service-oriented, ongoing technology and market transformations, especially towards the software-defined vehicle (SDV), are leveraging the need for collaboration between key actors representing the whole value chain and R&I ecosystem (OEMs, suppliers, tech companies, chip manufacturers, cities and mobility service providers, universities and research and technology organisations, etc.).  

The rapid increase in software complexity requires more standardisation across players, a need for an end-to-end software platform (including an operating system and middleware layer), building on the SW layer abstracting the underlaying HW, fostering the smartisation of products at a system and subsystem level, etc. A rising number of partnerships show a growing openness to join forces. Strengthening European collaboration becomes crucial to accelerating this recent trend.  

To this challenge, we can add further topics such as solid batteries and hydrogen, without overlooking advanced manufacturing, etc.  

Finally, how do you see European industry in the coming years?  

Europe has to be very smart about its commitment as a sector. It has to be ambitious from the point of view of sustainability but, at the same time, it has to think from the point of view of global competition. I think we have had a few years of some disarray, of a lack of common sense in making some decisions, of having let ourselves be carried away by voluntarism... We have to go back to our basic principles to be able to respond with ambition and responsibility to today’s challenges. 

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