vol.06 Creating for Tomorrow

Next Generation Concept Car【AKXY2】

Why does Asahi Kasei want to create a futuristic car?
〜Challenge aimed at a concept car via the generational series of “AKXY”, “AKXY POD” & “AKXY2”〜

“Why don’t we create an entire vehicle?”… Such an unthinkable challenge was born several years ago within Asahi Kasei. In 2017, we made an announcement on the first generation of “AKXY.” In 2019, the second generation of AKXY, the “AKXY POD,” came out. Finally, in May 2022, the third generation, “AKXY2,” will make its debut. It is said today that the automotive industry is in the midst of a once-every-100 years revolution. Why do we want to build a concept car if Asahi Kasei is not an automaker? What messages could be incorporated in such an ambitious plan? We will ask Kazumoto Takagi, Masahiro Morizumi and Takafumi Honjo at Asahi Kasei Business Strategy & Marketing Dept. (former name: Automotive Marketing Dept.) about how this concept car project came out, its background history as well as each one of their thoughts poured into this project.

▲From left: Masahiro Morizumi, Kazumoto Takagi, and Takafumi Honjo from Business Strategy & Marketing Dept..

A materials company that wants to create an entire car from scratch based on its own ideas and learn from it

 Takagi: “In 2016, a management policy that aimed to reinforce our automotive businesses was established as the core Mid-term Management Plan for the Asahi Kasei Group. Within this new policy, the primary goals were to expand our automotive businesses, reinforce our connection with customers and improve our brand recognition. In order to promote and support our automotive businesses, the Automotive Marketing Dept. was established on April 1 and the team was formed by existing employees from various departments within Asahi Kasei.

Although Asahi Kasei is already manufacturing and supplying numerous products for automotive materials, our company name is not well-known in the industry. In addition, we did not initially have much knowledge about vehicles as a non-automaker. That’s when we laid out the following three objectives on this project: 1. Make Asahi Kasei’s vehicle-related businesses better known around the world, 2. Improve our own knowledge about vehicles, 3. Unite all of us as one team and support our automotive businesses. As a result, we were determined to create our own signature concept car.”

▲Takagi and Morizumi came to the Automotive Marketing Dept. from electronics sector. Both of them love creating things. Takagi is a typical car enthusiast. He says that this concept car project is becoming an excellent experience as well.

Drivable next-generation showcase: the 1st generation of “AKXY” in 2017

Takagi: “In order to have intensive discussions about our concept car and how to build it, all members of our Marketing Dept. got together for a training camp in June of that year. Prior to this, we looked for a company who would be interested in collaborating with us. By summer, we discovered a startup called GLM, an EV specialist based in Kyoto. We researched so many companies who were good at creating concept cars. The reason why we chose GLM is because the company had the best futuristic concept – one that matched our own future vision – and their idea had a huge impact on us. Today, it is commonplace for everybody to talk about EVs or environmentally friendly vehicles. At that time, however, people had just started talking about the ‘upcoming automotive revolution.’”

Morizumi: “Our design concept was to incorporate an SUV-like taste that was becoming very popular at that time with the combination of curves and straight-lines, aiming to materialize several keywords such as “environment” and “harmony.” Then, we decided to implement Asahi Kasei’s engineering materials that were available for automotive use in as many applications as possible. As a result, we ended up with a “Drivable showcase” that incorporated 37 Asahi Kasei along with various demos by using selected products.

▲Creating a concept car requires a good grasp of multiple businesses and products under the Asahi Kasei brand. According to Morizumi, what’s important is to go beyond existing barriers, meet up with new people, and learn from them, which expands your own world.

The brand name “AKXY” (pronounced “axy”) represents Asahi Kasei with “AK” and how it crosses into society with “X.” The “Y” stands for “You,” meaning our customers such as automakers and suppliers. We created this concept car in order to let tradeshow visitors get inside for a real experience. The reason why we chose this SUV-like design is because it is easier for most people to get in and out of the car compared to a sports car or sedan. “


▲Our AKXY objective is “Automotive Safety/Comfort/Environmental protection.” In replacing metal materials, this concept car is incorporated with many cutting-edge technologies required for future vehicles, such as engineering resins that help vehicle weight reduction, artificial suede that enables great comfort for car seating, an in-cabin communication system using various types of voice recognition system and engine sound creator by using our original DSP (digital sound processor)., a CO2 sensor that diagnoses in-cabin air status, and more.

Takagi: “We held a press conference to announce our concept car’s completion in Toyosu, Tokyo on May 17, 2017. Thanks to our pre-announcement, we received 120-130 visitors including media stakeholders as well as 50 media outlets who reported about this event. We also received a lot of inquiries such as: ‘We’d like to work on the next concept car together with Asahi Kasei’, ‘Is Asahi Kasei going to commercialize this concept car?’, and so on. All in all, we quite successfully earned many business leads for Asahi Kasei’s engineering materials, which was our original goal on this project. After the event, the AKXY team joined many other tradeshows inside and outside of Japan including the “Automotive Engineering Exposition,” and then went around the world to visit a variety of companies as well as Asahi Kasei’s overseas sites in Germany, France, U.S, China, India, and others.

▲“Electronica 2018” held in Munich, Germany in November 2018

The future of automotive interiors: “AKXY POD,” the 2nd Generation of AKXY, was born in 2019

Takagi: “Around the time when the first generation of AKXY was completed, there was a global trend to revolutionize vehicle technology towards a more advanced, futuristic concept for connected, autonomous, shared and electrification: ‘CASE.’ Furthermore, in 2018 Asahi Kasei acquired a US automotive interior material manufacturer, Sage Automotive Interiors, and started reinforcing our interior materials business. With those two background histories, we launched a new project aiming to propose a vehicle interior space concept by looking ahead to the autonomous vehicle era in the near future.

This 2nd generation concept model named “AKXY POD” was produced in order to propose what a vehicle user will be able to do inside the cabin space in the future in addition to showcasing our immediately available technologies and materials under the Asahi Kasei brand. Through this concept model, we were expecting to have more discussions with customers, which would help us move forward to the next step of business together with them.

In May 2019, this concept model had its debut during the ‘Automotive Engineering Exposition.’ Maybe because our concept reached a bit too far, we received some surprising feedback like ‘What is this supposed to be?’ from some automotive industry stakeholders (laughs). However, even that type of feedback gave us a newfound inspiration and helped us come up with more new ideas.”

▲The AKXY POD does not have tires or a steering wheel in the driver’s seat. At a glance, there is a large difference from the first generation of AKXY. If you look at it from the top, however, the oval shape is almost identical with the previous generation. The design with a wide opening on both sides is expressing the connection between vehicle and material as well as driver and nature. This also represents Asahi Kasei’s vision of “living together with our environment.”

Morizumi: “Surprisingly, we received excellent feedback when we brought AKXY POD to this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest trade show featuring cutting-edge technology from around the world) held in Las Vegas in January 2022. As you may know, lots of non-automotive industry stakeholders also visit CES. When we explained that this was our concept of ‘futuristic vehicle space,’ many visitors said, ‘That’s very interesting!’, ‘When will you commercialize this vehicle?’ and so on. Overall, we received very few negative opinions. That helped me realize that opinions greatly vary depending on what type of people they are and how they look at it.”

The key concept of the AKXY POD is the ‘senses.’ Once you ride in this model, you will experience  with your eyes, ears, nose and skin. The most popular part for the visitors at CES were the videos on the ceiling, the narration and music, as well as the several different smells to add another dimension to the story. Those scents include a forest-like fragrance as well as the scent of cherry blossoms that comes out at the end of the story. Those scents work even with a facial mask on, so many people reacted with a ‘Wow!’”

▲CES held in Las Vegas in January 2022

“AKXY 2,” the 3rd generation concept, came out during the pandemic

Takagi: “After the AKXY POD made its debut in 2019, we started feeling a need for our next concept car. We immediately launched the AKXY2 project aiming to produce another concept car in a realistic capacity to a complete vehicle. Due to the pandemic, it took a long time to finalize the concept, and we ended up raising the bar for the 3rd generation project goal.”

Honjo: “While discussing numerous visions, we came up with the idea to combine our Homes and Automotive teams by combining Asahi Kasei’s strengths in different businesses. By refreshing our idea about a vehicle as a ‘movable space,’ the new concept we arrived at in discussions with our Homes team members was that if we create ‘my own favorite space’ where we can do whatever we want while traveling somewhere as well as staying in a specific location, we may be able to express a futuristic form of a vehicle for better enjoyment.”

▲Honjo said, “There is no right answer for building a concept. However, it is extremely important for individuals and companies to seriously consider: ‘What is the world looking for?’ as well as ‘What are people having fun with?’”

While we were in deep discussion about those questions, the pandemic arrived. As the rapid need for online functionality and DX (Digital Transformation) came out, we started hearing some questions from internal stakeholders, such as ‘Is there any point to creating new hardware now?’, ‘Do you really need to create a concept car during the pandemic?’, and so on. After a while, however, we finally decided to go ahead and build the concept car. After all, this pandemic brought us a great opportunity to reconsider the basic human needs to go out for fun as well as the desire to have real-life experiences.”

▲The initial phase concept design. Our original idea started off with a car being a part of furniture, which is the complete opposite of a regular concept car. Then, we gradually modified the design towards a vehicle-like appearance. Beyond Asahi Kasei’s global group members, overseas third-party stakeholders also joined our team. All in all, AKXY2 turned out to be an open-style innovation project.

The pandemic forced us to rethink about how we use a space and time based on the fact that there is not a private space needed for remote work inside a typical home as well as how to enjoy spending time anywhere without having close contact with others, among other things. At the same time, an extremely large-scale revolution has arrived in the automotive industry and all of the automakers started a full-swing movement towards electrification. Things like energy and materials used for vehicle manufacturing are transforming for improved sustainability. This market trend sparked further intense discussions about our vision concept on AKXY2. In the end, our idea was greatly impacted by the overall global trends.”

AKXY2-derived messages that enhance vehicle value: “Three-S’s”〜Sustainability, Satisfaction, Society〜

Honjo: “Currently we are in the midst of building AKXY2 for the upcoming ‘Automotive Engineering Exposition’ in May 2022. We discussed countless ideas about the concept throughout the project. In order to help people easily understand, we summarized it into ‘Three-S’s’: Sustainability, Satisfaction, and Society.”

▲A visual image proposed by AKXY2 that expresses a new way to utilize vehicles. AKXY2 enables the interior space to be expanded at the destination as well as a borderless in-cabin space between the indoors and outdoors.

Vehicles represent a key component of society. AKXY2 proposes a new way to utilize vehicles as a ‘place’ for various activities even while not traveling. The idea that a vehicle cabin can be more than a simple drivable space came out through discussions with our Homes team members. Let’s imagine some potential activities, like driving AKXY2 to a camp site and watching the stars at night, parking AKXY2 on the street and having a cup of coffee with friends, or parking AKXY2 on your own driveway and using it as a private room. We are expecting people to take a look at AKXY2 and come up with their own idea about how to use space or have some wishful thinking for fun. We are constantly having more discussions with our partners on the meaning behind the AKXY brand.

To present the concept appropriately, the upper half section of AKXY2 was made of glass alternative plastics and the design allows access to the in-cabin space from all directions. The chairs and bench can be freely rearranged. Also, people can sit on the top of the hood as well as the deck-like steps along the body frame. It is just like sitting on a porch or sunroom inside your home. This concept car blurs the line between indoors and outdoors.”

In Sessions 2 and 3 we will explore the Asahi Kasei products and technologies embedded into the AKXY2 concept car under the Satisfaction and Sustainability themes, then have interviews with some team members regarding the ideas they have incorporated into the project.
*This article was written based on information as of the end of March, 2022.

 

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