What are some of the greatest connected car software challenges and opportunities for car makers – today and tomorrow?

October 27th, 2021

The automotive industry is undergoing a series of rapid, radical changes. This is particularly true for connected car software, as services and features are steadily becoming more and more complex. This presents both challenges and opportunities for car makers, who need to know what this new technological landscape requires of them. This article, the second in our series on OEM challenges and opportunities, explores some of the key developments we are already starting to see. What will they mean for car makers, and for the connected car services of the future?

Does your brand new car model require a brand new backend?

Many car makers switch backends once every few years. This is often done as part of the launch of a new car model or car platform/segment. In that context, it might be appealing to replace an old solution, or add a new one to the current setup. Over time, however, the car maker could end up with several connected car clouds, spread across generations of cars. This makes for a very disparate backend solution, one that adds unnecessary complexity to the operation yet no major benefits. Moreover, it becomes increasingly difficult to make the production and development of new connected car services leaner and more cost-efficient.

Therefore, it is highly important to consider which is preferable: a brand new backend solution, or expanding and enhancing the cloud you already have. Regardless, it is crucial not to insource the entire operation. No single company or department can be an expert in all the millions of lines of code that a connected car and its external systems require. External partners bring expertise and different perspectives to your operations, and that will make your connected car services better.

Creating connected car services that will last and improve over time

Creating a new car generally takes about four years on average, from the start of the project to the start of production. The average car model will be manufactured for approximately seven years. Add to that the car maker’s liability period of, on average, fifteen years. This means that the connected car services you plan on having in your next, yet-to-be-released car model will likely remain in use for well over twenty years.

That, in turn, calls for continual maintenance and support of these services throughout their lifespans. As such, car makers need to make sure that their connected car services are easy to oversee, operate and update. Using many different backend solutions, with varying compatibility and capacity, is most likely not the best way of doing this.

Most of the more common services, like remote services (remotely unlocking your vehicle, for example), rarely undergo fundamental changes. Instead, they should be fine-tuned and improved over time. When we create connected car services at WirelessCar, they are built so that they can be customized and adjusted with each new implementation. This involves abstracting the vehicle logic, which means that the software (e.g. your mobile application) does not know, and does not need to know, every single aspect of the car for which it is used. The connected car software knows that it interacts with a certain model, of a certain generation, with certain specifications – and what and how this car wants to communicate. It is a software solution that ensures that your connected car services can be used and continually improved for years, even decades.

Greatest connected car software challenges and opportunities for car makers

Separate connected car services, or parallel versions – which is better?

When a connected car service does undergo significant changes, you are faced with an important choice. You can either turn it into a new, separate service, or have parallel versions running simultaneously for different car models. This is not so much a question of right vs. wrong, but rather about finding the most useful and convenient solution.

On the one hand, there is no inherent benefit to having, say, one remote unlock solution for cars made before the 2020s, and another for cars made in 2020 and onward. On the other hand, a major, multigenerational connected car service may become too complex for its own good. Some services for the model X, from the platform Y, built in 2020, may be supposed to work one way in North America, yet another way in Europe, for example.

Either option can work, but you will want to consider the best way forward; how to make the service as good, and as easy to build and manage, as possible.

Connected car software will only become more complex – how will your business tackle that challenge?

The number of components, and hardware variations at large, will continue to decrease in new cars – electric cars in particular. Meanwhile, the complexity of their software, and the number of software versions, will only grow. Over-the-air (OTA) updates will increase this digital diversity even more. The cars may still look identical from the outside, but they will be highly different from one another in terms of their digital services and features.

So what does this mean for your backend and your connected car services? Primarily that the complexity of your cloud will have to increase, to cater to this new, digital landscape. Think of your cloud as a toolbox; it may contain lots of useful tools already, but you will need to include all of your drill heads and wrenches to properly manage all the versions of your services out there. This for the sake of everything from customer satisfaction to cybersecurity.

In the future, we should expect the complexity of these connected car clouds to increase further still. Maybe the clouds will become car-specific, and function as a sort of digital twin. Machine learning and artificial intelligence could allow for an enhanced execution of code in the connected car. The car could then transmit its elaborate data to the cloud, where it may be processed and refined further before being sent back as precise instructions to the car.

5G technology enables data to be processed interchangeably in the cloud and in the car. This allows for a system of distribution where you can execute data where it is most convenient at the time. It makes your connected car services less dependent on internet connection quality, and allows you to truly make the most out of your connected car clouds.

Greatest connected car software challenges and opportunities for car makers

Team up with us to create state-of-the-art, future-proof connected car services

At WirelessCar, we follow this entire development very closely. In fact, we live and work right in the middle of this development every day. Our twenty years in the industry have made us knowledgeable and experienced, though also humble enough to say that we constantly learn new things as we go along. It is our belief that this kind of openness and curiosity is crucial to successfully creating, and maintaining, the great connected car services of today and tomorrow.

We know the importance of backward compatibility, and how to make it work in practice. We are also well aware of all the processes involved in creating a connected car, the issues that may arise, and how to help car makers overcome these obstacles. Our 20+ years of experience means we are well aware of the challenges facing the automotive industry; but also of the opportunities, and how to make the most of them.

This, clearly, is a vast and complex subject – one we will return to in future articles. If you want to know more about WirelessCar’s work in this area, you can reach us at Henrik Strömberg and Fredrik Nilsson. Make sure to also read our colleagues’ articles How can car makers become successful creators and providers of digital services for connected cars? and How to build better digital services for your connected cars and your customers.