As ACCESS is so involved in providing technology and content for in-car entertainment, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about innovation in the automobile industry. I’ve realised that scale is key, and as software adds so much innovation to next generation cars, scale is even more important. As the number of lines of code in a car continues to rise, it’s critical that the OEMs can re-use code between models, lines and even companies. As the OEM groups grow through consolidation (e.g. Stellantis, the product of the merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA), there is greater opportunity to amortise car software development and licensing costs over a greater number of vehicles.
Another important way in which innovation has developed is through advances developed in the competitive environment of motor sport trickling down to production cars. Here, scale is not all about the number of cars, but the size of R&D budgets. F1 alone has seen the following technologies either developed or perfected; Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), Exhaust Heat Recovery Systems, Traction Control, Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), tyre compounds and tread designs, ‘flappy paddle’ semi-automatic transmissions. This explains why F1 is often referred to as the ‘fastest R&D lab on earth’. In fact, in a bid to make F1 more relevant, recent rule changes on engine size, fuel efficiency and hybrid-engines means that it’s likely that this effect will become even more important over the next decade or so. It will be fascinating to see how quickly innovation delivered through software in motor sport becomes a part of road car innovation. I’d love to know if there is any F1 code in production cars on the road today.
What does this all mean for the car industry? The large car groups that develop a re-useable platform that can used across all marques, brands and models will be at a huge financial advantage. Almost as important is to change mindset so that s/w is the first avenue to explore when looking to innovate rather than being ‘hardware-first’. For the new EV entrants, they not only have to build cars that compete with the traditional OEMs in terms of build quality and performance, but if they are to survive and thrive they also have to build a software platform that enables them to compete when they launch and in the future. However, all these new entrants have a strong motivation to compete on all tech fronts and are not encumbered by legacy thinking or development processes.
Whether you are a new EV manufacturer or have been making cars for decades, developing a re-useable car s/w platform that delivers great functionality, is re-useable, can be continually enhanced as well as being up-dated and monitored over the air, is going to be a key enabler as the OEMs strive to reach the chequered flag of consumer sales.