Automakers target sovereignty over software architectures

Heightened control over software development could allow automakers to offer new functions across shorter vehicle lifecycles. By Christopher Dyer

Shifts towards software-based architectures are encouraging manufacturers to invest in dedicated in-house software departments. This movement is driving the industry toward a scalable set of unified platforms, capable of being transplanted across multiple vehicles. While effectively reducing development costs, the user experience (UX) is becoming increasingly homogenised.

Manufacturers making the shift to software-defined vehicles are reaping the benefits of a devolved software development department. Young electric vehicle (EV) companies such as Tesla have developed a head-start, with platforms defined by software from the beginning. However, conventional manufacturers such as Ford have also taken note of this approach. It has invested US$3bn into separating its software/EV development and internal combustion engine departments, named Model-E and Blue respectively, to attempt to catch up. Volkswagen, however, was one of the first legacy manufacturers to drive forward this change, building its own software development company Cariad in 2020. A spokesperson for Cariad commented that its role is to “pave the way” for Volkswagen to become “a software-driven mobility provider in the near future.”

Cariad hopes to pave the way for Volkswagen to become a software-driven mobility provider in the near future

Although automakers are taking software development into their own hands, the underlying features being introduced to new vehicles remain very similar. Matt Guest, Deloitte’s Digital Strategy Analyst for Automotive Businesses, comments that this could hamper brand differentiation. “Deeper drives towards more uniform software platforms and the shift towards cloud-based computing is leading to an automotive software industry where individuality is becoming less common,” he explains.

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