Automotive: our cars, future computers on wheels

A big blow to the transfer market. At the end of April, it was not yet time for the summer transfer window, but that didn’t stop Renault from announcing a five-star recruitment with the arrival as scientific director of Luc Julia. The French-American is a true artificial intelligence (AI) star: he co-created Apple’s voice assistant Siri and was vice president responsible for innovation at Samsung. His script? Help the diamond maker in terms of innovations around AI, human-machine interfaces and connectivity and, more broadly, allow it to negotiate the delicate turn of software in the best possible way.

If we talk a lot, a lot, madly… about the electrification of the automobile planet, it is experiencing a parallel, quieter, but equally Copernican revolution: that of its colonization in a forced march by software. “If an airplane contains 14 million lines of code, it takes 100 million to make a car work”, underlines Mikaël Le Mouëllic, associate director at BCG. And we are only at the beginning of the journey. According to the company PwC, the software will represent 60% of the total value of a vehicle in 2030. In other words, our cars are on their way to becoming true computers on wheels. “Software is becoming so much the heart of the business that manufacturers must master the technology,” summarizes Maxence Tilliette, automotive expert at Accenture.

Tesla remains the model to follow in terms of software

But you don’t go from screws to lines of code with a single click. To date, Tesla remains the only manufacturer to have developed a operational system (OS) specifically dedicated to the automobile, capable of centralizing control of all vehicle functions. “It’s the equivalent of an Android or iOS (Apple) for a smartphone”, image Eric Kirstetter, senior partner at Roland Berger and automotive specialist. Toyotas, Renaults, Stellantis, etc., meanwhile, continue to run around sixty computers in parallel (one for braking, another for acceleration, a third for air conditioning, etc.), which turns out to be component intensive – while the semiconductor shortage is expected to last at least until 2023 – and hard to duplicate in series. “Hence the desire of manufacturers to create a real software platform, like Tesla, that they can apply to all their models”, explains Eric Kirstetter.

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A transformation of which Volkswagen is clearly the leading figure. In the summer of 2020, the German giant created Cariad, a subsidiary entirely dedicated to the development of a future electronic infrastructure common to the 12 brands of the group. 5,000 developers are already hard at work on the issue, with an annual budget of 2.5 billion euros. And Cariad will eventually employ no less than 10,000 engineers! But for most builders, the mountain is too high to climb alone. The strings therefore continue to multiply. Stellantis thus approached the giant Amazon, while Renault works hand in hand with Google. “The Megane E-Tech Electrique, launched in May, is the first high-volume model to feature the Google Automotive Services interface, which gives access to Google Maps – with charging stations available en route depending on battery level – while voice assistant and the Play Store, where publishers can create, such as The team, dedicated applications”, lists Frédéric Vincent, Director of Information and Digital Systems and Technologies at the Renault Group.

Sign of the times, the engineer sits on the manufacturer’s executive committee with the diamond. Ditto for his alter ego in Stellantis, Yves Bonnefont. Renault also announced the creation in early 2021 of a “Software Republic”, in which it joined forces with Atos, Dassault Systèmes and STMicroelectronics to work on cybersecurity issues, big data and, of course, try to develop this famous operational system car. “In parallel with these partnerships, we have developed a Software factory in which more than 2,000 people work exclusively on software”, emphasizes Frédéric Vincent.

History will tell if the builders aren’t bringing the wolf into the fold. Apple and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, never hid that they had Chimene’s eyes on the car market and would develop their own car software architecture. Amazon would be tempted. But the threat could also come from Asia. “The Chinese government is pushing the 20 largest local manufacturers to federate to define a common standard ofoperational system“, says Eric Kirstetter.

Did Gafa’s flock enter the fold?

What is certain is that the manufacturers are already in competition with Gafa in the area of ​​human resources. A software engineer is indeed spoiled for choice when he earns his degree. Problem, “In Silicon Valley a basic engineer earns an annual salary of $200,000, and if we’re talking about an experienced engineer, that can be as much as $1 million! Hard for manufacturers to line up,” sighs one expert. So manufacturers are also training their troops in the joys of coding. “As car manufacturers are becoming more and more technology companies, we support them with training programs that can range from a few tens of hours to several hundred spread over several months, through our company General Assembly,” explains David Puech, strategic leader in the automotive and mobility industry for the Adeco group.

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However, it will be necessary to dig up talent to imagine the new services that a fully software-controlled car authorizes. King Tesla already offers Full Self-Driving, its self-driving app, for $199 a month. the whole through the air, like the updates that the Californian brand makes regularly to improve battery life, braking… just like smartphones. Stellantis is also counting on a boom in its revenue linked to connected services, which would rise from 400 million euros to 20 billion in 2030. An oasis of growth that makes all historical manufacturers fantasize.


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