Breeding innovations, quickly and effectively

Breeding innovations, quickly and effectively

ŠKODA’s innovation team plays a key role in the development of new features customers can find in the brand’s cars. The team gathers ideas, weighs them up and, if they’re found to have a practical benefit, quickly puts them into practice.

13. 10. 2022 Škoda World

Innovation is the driving force of everything that happens at ŠKODA. Countless people in many departments are involved in innovation. The Czech carmaker also has its own Innovation Management team, whose job is to seek out and deliver customer innovations. That means innovations that are truly practical and appealing for customers and that ensure ŠKODA cars move with the times or even set trends.

The innovation detail works on various details of both new models and futuristic studies.

It is thanks to Innovation Management that innovations like the ice scraper in the fuel tank cap, the tablet holder for rear seat passengers or the funnel for washer fluid integrated into the tank cap saw the light of day. But there are also more complex innovations, such as aerodynamic wheel covers, active air intake adjustment for the radiator or a sound generator for some ŠKODA models.

The innovation team is always trying something new, including various concepts. These include a mobile charging station for electric vehicles that uses a hydrogen fuel cell, an electrified axle or ideas for using recycled materials. Right now they’re working on an idea to make gear changing easier for drivers of manual transmission cars.

One of the innovations – a funnel integrated into the cap of the windscreen washer fluid tank that makes it easier to top up.

ŠKODA also has other teams focusing on digital innovation or innovations in manufacturing. But the domain of the Innovation Management team is customer innovations, equipment components, specific mechanical and tangible solutions, as well as software solutions. “The most recent trend is linking hardware and software, in other words comprehensive innovation solutions,” says Petr Šedivý from Technical Development, who leads the Innovation Management team. With innovation, it generally doesn't matter whether the innovation is destined to be a feature of standard or optional equipment, or whether it will be available as an accessory that can be purchased subsequently. “Our job is to come up with innovations quickly. We often come up against various platform limitations, for example, but we have to try to push innovations through in spite of them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to respond to current customer needs – we would have to innovate about ten years in advance, when the platform is starting to evolve,” Šedivý says.

Petr Šedivý
ŠKODA Technical Development

Creating innovations is not at all easy and obvious. “Everyone wants to be innovative. But fewer people want to innovate in the style needed to do so. And when they learn that innovations can also fail and that they must therefore be prepared for failure, the circle becomes even smaller,” says Šedivý.

An idea for 10 million cars

The innovation team works with all the departments that are responsible for the different elements of the car’s equipment and functions, from marketing to after-sales services to technical development. For that reason, the Innovation Management team includes representatives nominated from these different areas, who then help to communicate and prepare the new features. The actual preparation of innovations takes various forms. Sometimes, for example, the idea is developed directly by the technical development department or other specific departments.

Petr Šedivý and Pavel Barcal discussing the details of charging

One such example is the unit known as Electrics/Electronics Development. “Lately, we have been focusing on innovations that we might call Simply Clever software functions,” says the innovation manager from this department, Pavel Barcal. “These are mostly small innovations that make day-to-day experience with the car more enjoyable,” he adds. These kinds of innovations have quite an interesting life. “We are very much tied to VW Group’s electrical architecture, which means that our innovations have to be pushed through at the Group level. That may not be easy, but when we succeed, this kind of thing can then become a feature in the 10 million cars that the Group makes every year,” explains Barcal.

Pavel Barcal
innovation manager 

Incubator like a DIY workshop

One special branch of the Innovation Management team is the Innovation Incubator in Mladá Boleslav. “Here, our task is not only to come up with innovations, but also to evaluate them as quickly as possible and test whether they will actually make sense in practice,” says Lukáš Kendík, who is in charge of the incubator. “Don’t think of me as the boss. My role is more methodical. I act as a coach, it’s all about communication, ideas and ensuring certain things are properly organised. We don’t have a classic hierarchy in the incubator – I’m not the boss of the people who come here to work on innovation,” he explains.

This slightly different environment, atmosphere and modus operandi is intended to help foster innovation. “There are people here who might never have led a project, but their idea is their project. They can come to me at any time and I can advise them on what the next step in their project should be,” says Kendík. The incubator does not have a permanent team of “innovators”. “People rotate in and out as needed, depending on where an idea comes from. We also have students coming in, and we try to bring a fresh perspective to everything,” Kendík adds.

Lukáš Kendík
ŠKODA innovation team

“This is an environment where it’s great to have an idea. If it doesn’t work, no one will rip your head off,” says his colleague Miloš Jambor. Ideas can come from anywhere, he says. “Sometimes an idea just comes to you, sometimes you see something inspiring, maybe at a trade fair or a conference, and the inspiration can be a specific product that is already on the market. We also look at what topics university students are writing their theses on,” he explains.

3D printers play a key role in model-making.

But this means that the fate of innovations can be very diverse, and the innovation incubator confirms this. Only about a third of the ideas that pass through it will make it to the next stage of evaluation and development, and of these only about half will see the light of day in the form of a concrete solution. According to Miloš Jambor, some innovations are very challenging to implement. “That even applies to small things. When we want to develop some new holder for the car’s interior, for example, this has many levels including, of course, quality and safety. These are often things that various online retailers don’t address, but a car company has to, otherwise it would be disastrous,” Jambor points out.

Miloš Jambor
ŠKODA innovation team

ŠKODA innovation team

Even so, the incubator in Mladá Boleslav is a kind of DIY workshop where you can try anything. “If we think an idea is good, we quickly prepare a model, a concept, where we check if it makes any sense,” says Jambor. This kind of DIY environment is a bit contagious. “Then you start coming up with innovations at home, for example. I made a nice built-in basket for the sponge and washing-up liquid in my kitchen,” Jambor says with a smile.

Although local solutions are sometimes prepared hastily so their practical essence can be verified, members of the incubator and the innovation team as a whole try to work with the design department. “If you try to come up with something from the very beginning that is not only practical but also looks good, it has a better chance of catching on,” says Miloš Jambor.

The incubator can sometimes enable rapid progress on an idea, such as in the case of the Crystal Face design.

Crystal Face and a cut-up OCTAVIA

That is confirmed by Jan Dědek, who liaisons between the innovation team and the design department. In the latter, his job is to assess the feasibility and manufacturability of the designers’ ideas, or in some cases to ensure that the final solution looks as the designers intended. “I collect ideas for design innovations here as well, and we work on them together in the incubator and try to come up with something new,” Dědek explains.

Jan Dědek
ŠKODA innovation team

Sometimes, he says, the incubator can move an idea forward very quickly. This was the case with the illuminated Crystal Face on the ENYAQ iV family of models. “The idea originated somewhere in the design team and electrical solutions development team, but it would have taken too long to go into production the standard route,” says Dědek. And so the incubator was the ideal choice. Here they built the first model and the first prototype, and just three months after the initial idea and design sketches, the final design was created.

The incubator has a diverse scope – from technical details to visions of the future.

The team’s rapid progress is aided by the incubator’s workshop, which allows a wide variety of work to be carried out, from cutting all sorts of materials to welding. A demonstration car was built in the workshop to show possible ways of using recycled materials, for example. “We were given a car that had been discarded after testing and would otherwise have been turned into scrap. We cut it to pieces in the prototype building department, worked with the development department and suppliers to come up with parts made from alternative materials, and then fitted them into the car here in the workshop,” says Štefan Pásztor from the prototype construction department.

Štefan Pásztor
prototype construction department

The incubator uses a cut-up car to showcase recycled materials.

As we can see, the incubator offers a wide range of possibilities: from the design of an item holder to an elegant illuminated mask and even a whole car demonstrating the possibilities of various materials. Absolutely any idea can catch on. But that doesn’t mean that innovation has stopped everywhere else, quite the contrary. “We strongly encourage innovation, and the incubator creates a startup environment where some innovations and some innovators can thrive. But of course, people who work differently don’t have to use the incubator to innovate. They work on them in their specialist units – they stay there and do work similar to what we do here. There are plenty of people like that at ŠKODA,” says Michal Krůta, another technical development representative in the incubator.

Michal Krůta
ŠKODA innovation team