We no longer call them “car manufacturers” but “technology companies.” A semantic change in marketing, of course, but one that reflects a strategic reality: Beyond the electric lathe, the digital revolution is the other big leap in the car market. “A DS7 today contains more lines of computer code than an Airbus,” says Vincent Abadie, vice president and senior expert in driver assistance systems and Stellantis autonomous vehicles (PSA Fiat Chrysler).
There are many reasons for this steady increase in automotive software. “Customers now expect a car experience similar to that offered by their smartphone,” said Michael Fernandez-Ferri, co-founder of AutoTech, the car start-up association. So it’s no surprise that digital giants are appearing in the industry, first and foremost Google, Amazon and Apple. An example? The current battle over voice assistants, which allow you to control certain actions on your vehicle by voice (from changing music to adjusting the air conditioning to … closing the shutters on your home). A confrontation that reveals the different strategies of the manufacturers.
The human-machine interface, a Trojan horse for Gafam?
Volvo, Hyundai and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance have opted for Mountain View’s assistant and its famous “Ok Google”. Ford, Volkswagen, Jaguar, Audi and the Stellantis group have chosen Alexa, Amazon’s solution, which has the advantage of being customizable on behalf of the manufacturer. Others, such as BMW or Mercedes, have preferred to develop their own solution. “This allows for better integration with our vehicles,” says Julien Vely, the brand’s spokesman with the star. “Some do not want to take the Gafa on board for fear of losing part of the relationship with the customer,” says Michael Fernández-Ferri.
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“It’s a reciprocal partnership with a player of excellence, but not a situation of dependence,” said Jean-Paul Drai, Renault’s director of electric car project engineering, whose new Mégane integrates Android Automotive. Google’s dedicated car operating system. (which includes Google Maps services or the Play Store app store). “Superior connectivity to competitors will buy cars,” its CEO Luca de Meo summed up last year on the set of BFM Business.
The most global issue here is the “human-machine interface,” that is, the interactive experience with the vehicle itself. Mocked in its beginnings, Tesla is today an inspiration for the industry in this area. “Tesla considers its computer developers to be the heart of the reactor. Which is not in the DNA of the manufacturers who very often outsourced their software brick,” says Michael Fernandez-Ferri. But the latter seem to have decided to go high speed to catch up.
“Our software department has 1,000 people worldwide so far and we plan to recruit 4,000 over the next few years, as well as retrain 1,000 employees,” says Vincent Abadie, for example. It must be said that it is also a potential new economic model. Stellantis, which stole Amazon’s Alexa Automotive vice president last summer, expects an additional € 20 billion in annual revenue by 2030 from the sale of services, on-demand features and software subscriptions linked to this layer of software. For its part, Tesla has been offering insurance in Texas since last year based on real-time driving data from its drivers.
The digitalization of the car also refers to safety, in particular the rise of advanced driver-assistance systems (Adas). According to the estimates of the French equipment manufacturer Valeo, one of the world leaders in the field, this market should increase from 15 billion euros in 2021 to 60 billion in 2030. Adaptive cruise control, automatic headlight adjustment, rail vehicle maintenance, traffic recognition. signaling, reverse obstacle detection, parking assistance … The new Mégane, for example, has no more and no less than 26 Adas.
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“And with new vehicle software architectures, we can gradually add real-time, remote functionality,” adds Geoffrey Bouquot, Valeo’s director of R&D and strategy. A way to decorrelate the cycles of industrial innovations (which are counted in years) and digital ones. This way, you don’t have to change your car to benefit from the latest technological innovations – a simple upgrade will suffice! Like a smartphone.