The secret sauce for successful innovations in the Silicon Valley

Interview with Felix Gunawan about the future and trends in the automotive industry

The automotive industry is undergoing its greatest transformation since the invention of the automobile. The fast and reliable transmission of data plays a central role and is driving the automotive future. As a result, in addition to the traditional OEMs in the automotive industry, more and more technology companies from the consumer and semiconductor industries are leading the way in the “digital vehicle” and entering the market with their own solutions. These companies do not follow the established automotive development processes and are not afraid to explore new and unconventional paths. This leads to processes from the telecommunications industry becoming established in the automotive industry and thus shortens development times.

In order to identify new trends and developments at an early stage and, together with our partners, develop suitable data transmission solutions, it is essential for us to be connected to these technology drivers. The “tech companies”, however, do not have their development centers in the usual automotive industry locations but in technology centers around the world. Our Product Management opened its first Tech Office in San José (CA) in the USA in 2020, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. This was followed in 2021 by the Tech Office in the hightech region of Shenzhen in China. Both Tech Offices, together with the headquarters in Germany, form the technology axis for future MD product developments.

Tech Talk is an interview series that introduces you to some inspiring characters inside and outside MD and the world of tech, innovation and beyond.

In this first episode of Tech Talk, we sat down with Felix Gunawan. We talk about his position as Strategic Product Manager at MD, the Silicon Valley and its mindset as well as the future and trends in the automotive industry.

Felix, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, who you are and where you are from.

Felix: I´m a Strategic Product Manager at MD ELECTRONICS located in the Silicon Valley, San José, California, the future home of the Google headquarters. I´m trained as an engineer and did my Master’s in business management. I have pretty much lived here in sunny California all my life.
Career-wise, I’ve been working for multiple industries, e.g. semiconductors, and recently switched to automotive.

Let us jump to the next question and have a look at the Silicon Valley companies and their business approach. How do these companies differ from other companies? What would you say is the biggest difference?

Felix: That’s a very good question, you know, the thing I noticed the most is the speed of innovation here in the Silicon Valley. Things are moving very fast, almost to a point where unfinished products will get into the market as fast as they can. So basically, to introduce your actual product, before it’s even fully completed, you don’t really need a polished product to be able to show it to the market. I mean, we’ve seen this a lot. For example, the Faraday Future. The car would barely move, but you could see the concept, right? And same thing with Tesla, there may be a window screen crack but that’s not important. Just basically get your product out there, noticed by the public. It doesn’t have to be polished and / or complete, just get people / the media talking and interested. So that’s the biggest difference between Silicon Valley and other companies.

Thank you for your experiences on that, Felix. Let us now dip into your role as Strategic Product Manager and your daily business. What is the next big thing you are currently working on?

Felix: As a Strategic Product Manager I work daily with upcoming technology companies. For example, I currently work with a new customer and they require brand new cable assemblies for their new business. I’m also working with semiconductor companies like NVIDIA to figure out future technologies. Which features will we be looking at in future generations? And what data speed will our cables need to support? What will be in maybe 5 or 10 years? What we can see already, for example, is that autonomous vehicles need a lot of bandwidth and a lot of data. The chipset and our cables need to reflect that.

Well, that sounds like a challenging but interesting job you’re doing. Felix, you mentioned a new customer and their need for completely new cables for their new businesses. I’m interested to hear more about how you make sure to come back to them with the right products based on their needs. Are they always able to express their needs? Or how do you find out what they are really looking for?

Felix: It’s both. So, to answer your question, generally we start by introducing our product portfolio and capabilities. Sometimes they ask “do you have this kind of specific cable harness?” and we either do or we say “we have an alternative”. So sometimes our customers will ask for a part we do not manufacture, we could say “No” but at MD we consider it part of our customer service to offer them alternative solutions. We have over 25 years experience in the automotive industry and more often than not our alternative solutions are better than what they initially asked for. You know, sometimes even our competitors will come to us and by being open to mutual cooperation, we receive a lot of information about future trends in return.

Thank you for your insights, Felix, it sounds like MD ELECTRONICS has invested in win-win relationships for both sides. In your position as Strategic Product Manager at MD, what was the most inspirational company you have been in exchange with so far?

Felix: After working with them for a couple of years, Tesla has been the most inspirational experience. One example I can think of is when they were manufacturing the Model 3, they called it “Tent City”. They actually built the whole production line for Model Y in the employee parking lot. You could see the employee parking lot numbers under your foot when you were walking around. They built a very fast conveyor belt, people were manufacturing their products there using forklifts or gantries. The speed was incredible – turning a parking lot into an entire manufacturing product line – they did it in a matter of months. And I don’t think any other car manufacturer could actually make that happen. They’re very innovative and unique. They’re not afraid to fail, I mean they do suffer a lot of quality issues but people seem to be happy with their Model Y. So, I think Tesla are the most inspirational company I have seen so far.

Wow, this sounds crazy. That is another example of speed over quality and achieving success. It is a completely different world compared to our German engineering plants, where quality is the golden rule. Felix, based on your experiences and insights from Silicon Valley, how will the automobile industry look like in 10 years? What is your guess?

Felix: My guess is that in 5 to 10 years, cars will be mostly autonomous. The amount of data, the artificial intelligence – that’s already being used to figure out if you’re a human, a bicycle or a car, etc. I’ve seen how software engineers are developing their algorithm as well as the point clouds they use for LiDARs, it’s amazing, and we’re not that far away from having fully self-driving cars. I had the pleasure of actually riding a fully self-driving car in Arizona and that was able to drop a passenger off from their house to a mall without any human assistance. It was a route that had been practiced over and over again, but nevertheless, once you have that much data, I believe that in 5 to 10 years, most cars will be driving autonomously.

What does this mean for MD? Would you say we are on track with our products? What’s your personal opinion on that?

Felix: I’ve been working with MD for more than two years and I think MD is following the right strategy – approaching all the automotive players in the Silicon Valley as well as expanding their support for their established automotive customers in Europe, Asia and NAFTA.

That is great to hear. So kudos to all MD employees out there for doing an amazing job and enabling the mobility of tomorrow. Let us talk about tech trends in the automobile industry. What is your opinion, which tech trend might have the biggest impact on MD’s business?

Felix: The tech trends I see are basically all revolving around speed. New players need multiple different components as soon as possible, as they change their products frequently. No model is the same from this year to last. Luckily MD already has considerable automation capacities which is great. We will need that speed and automation, as well as flexibility to continue our success in the future.

That’s really interesting that you again mentioned speed. In the future, that success might not only depend on delivering the right tech, but on delivering it on time. So, as the new automotive companies change their product so frequently, the competency to understand their wants and the flexibility and agility to respond to their needs might have the biggest impact on MD’s business.

The most important insights in the early stages of innovation are speed over perfection, to learn fast, move fast and sometimes fail fast in order to succeed . Definitely a huge challenge that MD should bear in mind in the endeavour to keep customers happy.

Let us speed up for a successful future in the market of data transmission in vehicles. Think big, learn fast, make a difference.