Update: I’ve received a number of comments on this post, so am republishing with annotations. New material is in blue since italics seems to not work in some browsers/readers. Most significant are Daimler’s comments in the second paragraph.

This week saw a rather strange battle of the press releases: Siemens PLM announced that Daimler AG will phase in NX as its standard for worldwide vehicle development starting in 2012. Dassault Systèmes followed a short while later with a press release that said this decision was a surprise to DS since Daimler, in September of 2010, renewed its contract for CATIA and other solutions through 2015. The release went on to say that Daimler had not evaluated CATIA V6; DS was told “by Daimler AG that, as CAD application portfolio was not its priority, its decision was based upon CAD integration in its home grown PDM system “Smaragd”.”

On November 25, Daimler commented in a piece for automotiveIT entitled “Daimler deal with Siemens surprised Dassault.” In the story, Daimler spokesman Michael Mainka is quoted as saying "Daimler currently uses CATIA in different business areas. The company will migrate these applications completely to NX.” Further, Mr. Mainka is cited as saying that Daimler did evaluate several alternatives – including CATIA V6 – but that these assessments led to the selection of NX. The criteria used in the assessment were support of specific business processes, integration with existing systems, future viability of the concept and the technology, quality and cost. [You can use Google’s translate function to read the story in English — Ed.]

A couple of things strike me as odd about this whole … thing. First, all PLM vendors have people whose job it is to monitor the automotive OEMs so I find it hard to believe that DS didn’t know that something was up at Daimler. Second, DS’s press release is all about its reaction and had few words of comfort to position DS, CATIA or ENOVIA so that other OEMs don’t jump ship, too; DS is usually much more savvy in its positioning. Third, making a wholesale change from one CAD system to another is a huge business process change — much tougher than swapping out one version of Microsoft Word for another — so there’s got to be more to this than we’ve heard. Finally, CAD companies often claim that they are the “standard” when, in reality, there are still many CAD products in use; Siemens doesn’t typically overreach but it’s worth considering that this announcement may not be as big as it seems. I couldn’t reach anyone at Daimler who talk publicly about this (not surprising, since an unwise comment could be a career-killer) but we’ve seen this happen before, so can speculate with the facts we’ve been given.

We do know that Daimler intends to integrate work from over 20 development sites and their main suppliers on a single product development platform backed by their Teamcenter-based Smaragd process and data management system. According to Siemens, Daimler looks to “establish digital collaboration from initial concept design, through simulation during design, down to proof of concept of design solutions. The consolidation of digital product information in one single worldwide data pool will facilitate new vehicle development. The introduction of parallel processes in development, design, production planning and production will further optimize the entire value chain. The combination of NX CAD [with] Smaragd … will integrate our entire product creation process from design through production planning down to managing production machines.”

Daimler’s 20 development sites span innovative car concepts (Smart), established brands (Mercedes and the hyper-luxury Maybach), trucks (Freightliner) and many others. To integrate them all onto one platform could be a very good thing, as all brands rely more heavily on the integration of electronics into mechanical systems, employ more advanced engineering tools (like CFD), and must introduce more flexible and efficient manufacturing techniques at production facilities. But why couldn’t DS supply this? Why did it make more sense to throw out established CATIA-centric work processes, data files, and years of history to implement an NX-based strategy?

My sense is that this whole thing is as much about Daimler as it is about any CAD vendor, the success of Siemens at winning this account notwithstanding. Daimler perhaps saw a need to reinvent its vehicle development process, shake up any remaining in-house complacency in an evermore competitive environment — and make everyone think about new ways to do things better. And doing things better may be easier when you’ve got CAD and PDM from the same vendor, since that integration of data and process is strongest in native form.

It’s also possible that technology directions forced Daimler’s decision. Siemens has done a great job with NX, migrating users forward with minimal disruption and with NX/Teamcenter integration a key element of every release. Since CATIA V6 requires ENOVIA, how would Daimler use its Smaragd in a V6 scenario? Is it even possible? If it is, why would Daimler pay for ENOVIA it may not use or want? DS has said that it will support V5 indefinitely, but what does that really mean for Daimler? DS announced earlier in the week that V6R2011x is open to other PDM systems; what does this mean to Daimler? [If I had the DS press release to do over, these are the points I would address. They really missed an opportunity.]

Smaragd has been in use by Daimler since at least 2000, when Mercedes Benz cars standardized on Metaphase. I don’t know how much data is currently managed by Smaragd*, but it is likely to be huge and critical to operations since Smaragd is the integration hub for all of Daimler’s suppliers as well as in-house designers. Daimler chose the CAD system most compatible with its Smaragd; that happens to be NX.

* According to an article in T-Systems’ Best Practices magazine, as of January 2009 Smaragd supported 8000 engineers at 40 sites connected, connected to 4 data bases with a total of over 30TB of data. Further details about Smaragd are in an English article at T-Systems.