With the transition to electric power, carmakers are being challenged to build new drivetrains, reimagine their model lineup and rethink what it is to be an automaker. VW Group CEO Herbert Diess has said on several occasions
, that the German marque will have to completely change to a “digital company”, if it’s to remain competitive in a fast-changing market.
What Diess is really alluding to when he says “digital company” is software. The VW of the future won’t just make cars, it will have to continually develop software to run them as devices.
Modern carmakers have many years of experience at producing complex mechanical vehicles and are well versed in running complex global supply chains. However, software has for the most part come secondary. It’s used functionally to make some components of the car work and is spread across many different processing units and that’s that.
Right now, the priority is very much with the mechanical components of the vehicle.
Software defined vehicles
With the transition to electric power, we don’t see cars as complex industrial carriages defined by their mechanical underpinnings anymore. We see them as pieces of technology defined by their experience and future potential – that experience is defined by software.
What’s more, like with mobile phones, we expect our electronics to continue to improve as time goes on. We expect software updates, security patches, new features and iterative improvements. This mentality now applies to cars. They are transformable electronics that can and should be continually updated.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal
earlier this year, as automakers have moved to electric drivetrains, “computing has become the heart of the vehicle.” No longer do mechanical components take center stage in vehicle development, rather it’s the software tying it all together that is becoming the focus.
For an EV, software has a dramatic and broad impact over how that vehicle drives and its overall dynamic characteristics.
From explosions to electrons
Compared to a combustion engine, there are far fewer moving parts and components required to make an EV move. While this has its upsides in the form of fewer servicing requirements, for carmakers it removes masses of opportunity for how they define and differentiate their vehicles and places greater emphasis on the software that controls their vehicles’ components.
With combustion engines, carmakers can choose between gasoline, diesel, or LPG as fuel. Engines powered by each of these fuels has subtly different characteristics compared to the next. Diesels are torque-y and low revving, whereas gasoline engines rev across a wider power band and feel sprightlier.