Quality has long been one of the major competitive advantages in industrial products such as automobiles. But build quality has become mandatory across the automotive field, and manufacturers now search for new competitive advantages. An underestimated advantage in the automotive world, which applies in fact to all producers of consumer goods and services, lies in what clients perceive as quality and not what the factory or R&D department considers lack-of-defects build quality. The very definition of quality therefore is evolving. The difficulty with the implementation of "Perceived Quality'' in the engineering- oriented automobile industry is an intrinsic, cultural reluctance to accept apparently unmeasurable, subjective evaluation methods as opposed to those widely recognized, seemingly objective methods used today.
This paper will compare present quality evaluation methods with the new perceptual approach. It will also discuss some of our in-house research, both in design and in electronics, from the development of the 1998 Lancia Dialogos Concept Car. The paper will conclude with a look at future possibilities, with a key role for electronics, in this exciting new, human-oriented approach to automotive development.