Automotive: our cars, future computers on wheels

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

If we talk very, very, crazy… about the electrification of the car planet, the latter is experiencing a parallel revolution that is quieter but equally Copernican: its colonization by a forced march of software. “If an airliner collects 14 million lines of code, it takes 100 million to make a car work”, emphasizes Mikaël Le Mouëllic, associate director at BCG. And we are only at the beginning of the journey. According to the firm PwC, software will represent 60% of the total value of a vehicle in 2030. In other words, our cars are on their way to becoming real computers on wheels. “Software is becoming so much the heart of the business that manufacturers need to master the technology,” summarizes Maxence Tilliette, specialist in Accenture’s automotive sector.

Tesla remains the model to follow in terms of software

But you don’t go from bolts to lines of code in one click. To date, Tesla remains the only manufacturer to have developed one operating system (OS) specifically dedicated to the car, able to centralize the control of all the vehicle’s functions. “It’s the equivalent of an Android or an iOS (Apple) to a smartphone”, imaged Eric Kirstetter, senior partner at Roland Berger and automotive specialist. The Toyotas, Renaults, Stellantis, etc., for their part, continue to run about 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 shortage of semiconductors is expected to last at least until 2023 – and difficult to duplicate in series. “That’s why the manufacturers want to create a real software platform like Tesla, which they can then apply to all their models”, explains Eric Kirstetter.

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A transformation in which Volkswagen is clearly the figurehead. In the summer of 2020, the German giant thus created Cariad, a subsidiary solely dedicated to the development of a future electronic infrastructure common to the group’s 12 brands. 5,000 developers are already hard at work on the issue with an annual budget of 2.5 billion euros. And Cariad would eventually employ no less than 10,000 engineers! But for most builders, the mountain is far too high to climb alone. The ropes therefore continue to multiply. Stellantis has thus turned to the giant Amazon, while Renault works hand in hand with Google. “Megane E-Tech Electrique, released in May, is the first high-volume model to feature the Google Automotive Services interface, which provides access to Google Maps – with charging stations available along the route depending on battery level – to voice assistant and to Play Shop where publishers can come to create, e.g The team, dedicated applications”, lists Frédéric Vincent, director of information systems and technologies and digital at Renault Group.

Sign of the times, the engineer sits on the manufacturer’s executive committee with the diamond. Ditto for his alter ego at Stellantis, Yves Bonnefont. Renault also announced the creation at the beginning of 2021 of a “Software Republic”, where it has teamed up with Atos, Dassault Systèmes and STMicroelectronics to work on issues of cyber security, big data and of course to try to develop this famous operating system automobile. “Parallel with these partnerships, we have developed an internal one software factory where more than 2,000 people work exclusively with software”, emphasizes Frédéric Vincent.

History will show if the builders do not bring the wolf into the fold. Apple and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, have never made a secret of having Chimene’s eyes on the automotive market and would develop their own automotive software architecture. Amazon would be tempted. But the threat can also come from Asia. “The Chinese government is pushing the 20 largest local manufacturers to federate to define a common standard foroperating system“, says Eric Kirstetter.

Did the Gafa package enter the sheepfold?

What is certain is that the manufacturers are already in competition with Gafa in human resources. A software engineer is truly spoiled for choice when he gets his degree. Problem, “in Silicon Valley, a basic engineer earns an annual salary of 200,000 dollars, and if we talk about an experienced engineer, it can go up to 1 million dollars! Difficult for manufacturers to adapt”, blows an expert. So manufacturers are also training their troops in the joys of coding. “As car manufacturers increasingly become tech companies, we support them with training programs that can range from a few dozen hours to several hundred spread over several months, through our company’s General Assembly,” explains David Puech, strategic manager of the automotive industry and mobility for the Adecco Group.

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However, it will be necessary to unearth talent to imagine the new services that a car completely controlled by software authorizes. King Tesla already offers Full Self-Driving, its self-driving app, for $199 a month. all above the air, like the updates that the Californian brand makes regularly to improve battery life, slow down… just like on smartphones. Stellantis also expects 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 the historical manufacturers fantasize.


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