They are no longer called “car manufacturers” but “tech companies”. A marketing semantic change of course, but it reflects a strategic reality: after the electric transition, the digital revolution is the other major disruption in the auto market. “Today the DS7 has more lines of computer code than Airbus,” says Vincent Abadi, Vice President and Chief Expert in Driver Assistance Systems and Self-Driving Vehicles at Stellantis (PSA Fiat Chrysler).
There are many reasons for this constant increase in automotive software. “Customers now expect an in-car experience similar to that offered by their smartphone,” explains Michael Fernandez-Ferre, co-founder of AutoTech, the association for automotive start-ups. So it is not surprising to see digital giants emerge in the industry, led by Google, Amazon and Apple. Example ? The current battle is over voice assistants, which allow you to control certain actions in your car by voice (from changing the music to adjusting the air conditioning to… closing the curtains in your house). Showdown that reveals the different strategies of manufacturers.
Man-machine interface, a trojan for Gafam?
Therefore, Volvo, Hyundai and the alliance of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi chose Mountain View’s assistant and the famous “Ok Google” company. Ford, Volkswagen, Jaguar, Audi, or the Stellantis group chose Alexa, Amazon’s solution, which is customizable with the manufacturer’s name. Others, such as BMW or Mercedes, preferred to develop their own solutions. “This allows for better integration into our cars,” states Julian Fili, a spokesperson for the brand with the star. “Some don’t want to bring Gafa on board for fear of losing part of the relationship with the client,” though Michael Fernandez-Ferry identifies.
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“It’s a mutual partnership with a distinct player, but not a case of dependency,” says Jean-Paul Dray, engineering director of Renault’s electric vehicle projects, which integrates the new Mégane system with Android Automotive, Google’s operating system for cars (which includes Google Maps services Google or Play Store App Store). “Superior connectivity to competitors will buy cars,” its general manager, Luca de Meo, summed up last year at BFM Business Group.
The most universal issue here concerns the “human-machine interface,” i.e. the interactive experience with the vehicle. Tesla parodied in its infancy, and today it is an industry inspiration for the sector. “Tesla considers IT developers to be the heart of the reactor. This is not in the DNA of manufacturers who, too often, outsource their software building block,” testifies Michael Fernandez-Ferry. But the latter seems to have decided to switch to high gear to catch up.
“Our software division has 1,000 people worldwide so far, and we plan to hire 4,000 employees over the next few years as well as retrain 1,000,” says Vincent Abadi, for example. It must be said that it is also a potential new economic model. Stellantis, which robbed Alexa Automotive’s vice president from Amazon last summer, is envisioning an additional €20 billion in annual revenue by 2030 thanks to the sale of services, on-demand features, and software and subscriptions associated with this software tier. For its part, Tesla has been offering insurance in Texas since last year based on real-time driving data from its drivers.
Vehicle digitization is also about safety, in particular the advent of driving assistance systems (Adas, from Advanced Driver Assistance Systems in English). According to estimates by French equipment manufacturer Valeo, one of the world leaders in this field, this market should increase from 15 billion euros in 2021 to 60 billion in 2030. Adaptive cruise control, automatic headlight adjustment, vehicle maintenance lane and movement recognition Traffic signals, obstacle detection in the opposite direction, parking assistance … The new Megane, for example, has no fewer than 26 lenses.
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“With new vehicle software architectures, we will gradually be able to add both real-time and remote functionality,” adds Jeffrey Bocott, director of research, development and strategy at Valeo. A method of linking industrial innovation cycles (counted in years) to digital innovation cycles. Thus, there is no need to change your car to take advantage of the latest technological innovations: a simple upgrade will suffice! Like a smartphone.