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An ‘under the hood’ look at vehicle connectivity

Shiva Bhardwaj examines the promises and challenges of moving to a software-defined connected car ecosystem

Vehicles are now dubbed ‘smartphones on wheels’. They have dozens of computers and hundreds of sensors controlled by millions of lines of code all connected to the internet. The key difference between smartphones and vehicles is the fact that transporting people and goods at high speeds safely requires stringent regulations and manufacturing and design processes that greatly reduce innovation cycles. When software bugs can lead to death, it makes sense that vehicle innovations take longer to get in the hands of consumers. The promise of a US$400bn connected vehicle market is a well-known concept, but the implementation is taking longer than expected. A number of core technology advancements, features and challenges still need to be addressed.

As of 2022, the features a user experiences depend on the vehicle they drive and the region in which they live, both of which can vary significantly. The promises and benefits can be broken down into two categories: entertainment and functional features.

The promise of a US$400bn connected vehicle market is a well-known concept, but the implementation is taking longer than expected

Entertainment features are more mainstream for the average consumer. Features found in vehicles today offer the ability to play games, watch Netflix, implement IFTTT configurations (ex. opening the garage as the car pulls in to the driveway), play music and audio apps, and other fun (and pointless) items, like playing farting sounds where the passengers are seated.

The promise around entertainment would expand into convenience with features such as purchasing food and drinks from a favourite restaurant directly from the vehicle. There have been launches of in-vehicle marketplaces but so far none has really taken off.

‘Functional’ dives in a little deeper to the car, with features in vehicles on the road today that include the ability to have over-the-air updates, fixing bugs or adding new features wirelessly. These also can include advanced analytics and vehicle health monitoring, vehicle navigation, driver safety systems (ADAS), vehicle energy status and requirements (charging), remote locking/unlocking and remote start.

This area of functionality is where the promises seem endless and make up a large part of the US$400bn connected vehicle opportunity. The ability for a vehicle to know when it has an issue before trouble happens and resolve it would save on unnecessary breakdowns. The image of a world where the vehicle drives itself for service and even acts as an Uber when not in use by its owner is quite powerful.

GM Marketplace
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The challenges of delivering both categories of features are entrenched within the historic culture built within the industry. Typically automotive manufacturers do not operate with software-first cultures, which is why many are behind in offering a wider array of features and benefits. For example, there is little to no comparison to the software embedded in a Tesla versus a Ford, which really is a real-world contrast between the promises and challenges. Just to clear any confusion, the Ford Mach-E is an excellent electric vehicle but still lacks the software sophistication of a Tesla.

Remember, a vehicle is a 2,000 pound metal machine carrying people and goods around, which makes it much different than designing a smartphone. Safety, advanced data analytics and cyber security amongst many other areas need to be developed correctly because it can lead to fatalities through accidents. Ultimately this is the reason why it will take time for the market to realise the promised land of a connected vehicle that drives and fixes itself.

It is clear that vehicles are opening up new opportunities which will completely change the way we know and experience transportation. Like all major infrastructure changes this transition will take time, but in comparison to the last 100 years it is changing fast.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Shiva Bhardwaj  Founder and CEO at Pitstop

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