Futurists in the auto industry like to compare the electric, connected and autonomous car to a mobile phone: a rechargeable, upgradable device that lets consumers run their favorite apps, while also taking them where they want to go.
Veoneer, the Swedish supplier that was spun off from Autoliv to pursue advanced active safety and driver assistance systems, has taken that comparison to heart. Last autumn, it hired Nishant Batra from the telecom giant Ericsson to be its chief technical officer.
Batra has been working in the automotive industry for less than a year, but he has some definite ideas about what it can learn from Big Tech and telecoms.
"It's an industry in transition, and an industry in transition usually needs to make choices," Batra said at Veoneer's recent test day outside of Gothenburg, Sweden.
"Should automakers invest more in electrification, or in autonomous driving, or in active safety or emissions?" he asked. "I have come right in the middle of this disruption, by choice, because disruption creates opportunity."
For Veoneer, those opportunities will come from software as well as selling complete safety and assistance systems, rather than individual sensors such as radar and cameras, he said.
But for cars to truly become like mobile phones, he said the industry needs to rethink the entire electronic architecture so that it is flexible and upgradeable, especially over the air, just as mobile phone owners expect to wake up and find that their phone has automatically downloaded the latest operating system.
The problem with traditional cars is that they are controlled by many different processors, each of which would have to be upgraded individually, he said.
"If you think of the phone as a car," Batra said, "OEMs have built traditional cars, where they have a cellphone that is run on a processor, but then each app is run on a separate processor."
"So, when they upgrade the operating system, all the apps stop working because they're on a separate processor," he continued. "So, then they have to upgrade all of the processors of each of the apps, and it doesn't work."
The automotive industry needs "an architectural revolution," he said -- a centralized, scalable electronics platform that allows the car's operating system as well as all of its "apps" to be upgraded seamlessly over the air.
Beyond benefiting suppliers such as Veoneer, that could help automakers offset reduced profit margins from costly technologies like electrification or autonomous driving.
"When OEMs can sell a car that is upgradeable, they'll be creating new revenue streams, not just a one-time sale," Batra said. "I can either charge you for all features for 10 years upfront, or I can have a business model where I can say, the car will upgrade next year, and I will charge you for some of the new features."
Batra noted that this will require automakers to work together to create a set of computing standards to reduce complexity and foster compatibility, and to allow open-source development. It will also lower the cost of design and production and reduce the need for complex and time-consuming validation.
While tech companies have been doing this for decades, he said, automakers and suppliers are just getting used to this way of working.
"In telecom, everything is standardized," he said. "In automotive, everything is bespoke, and bespoke creates cost, and that's a problem."
Batra said he saw positive trends.
"I won't say the revolution will happen tomorrow," he said. "The OEMs are starting to realize that they can't do everything, and that openness and standardization helps reduce their cost."