It is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the traditional auto industry. There is the political will for electric cars and stricter emissions standards for combustion engines. And as if that wasn't enough, new players are entering the market. These are not upstart from China. Revolutionaries are coming who will completely change the industry.
The electric car discussion still revolves around the topic of range. It won't be long now, because the first vehicles with a range of more than 2021 kilometers have been announced in China for 1.000. This should gradually dissolve the fear of range into thin air. It is a hardware discussion anyway that nobody will have in 10 years.
As with a tablet or smartphone, the hardware and its origin will become secondary. An electric car is a smartphone on wheels with one or more electric motors and a certain battery capacity. The fact that Volvo has decided to build its own electric motors in the future is an anachronism that is still based on old hardware thinking.
The prospect will not care where this engine comes from. Worse still, he won't notice any difference in everyday life.
The decisive factor is the software that will stand for what is called the driving experience. The traditional auto industry is struggling here in particular. Their weaknesses are obvious, the transformation from automaker to software developer will not succeed overnight. If it is possible at all, because the corporate culture of the IT industry is very different from that which you maintain in the hardware-based automotive industry.
Software bugs and beta testers
You could marvel at how badly this can go wrong at last year's new releases. VW ID3 customers became beta testers who paid for it. In addition to the officially communicated 22 software errors of the ID, there are likely to be more. There was hardly anything public in Germany because Volkswagen managed the remarkable masterpiece of gathering its customers in a closed “First Mover” Facebook group moderated by VW.
Beyond Germany, in Norway, they were more open about it. ID3 that do not charge and vehicles with windows fogging up to such an extent that they are no longer safe to drive in winter are some of the anecdotes. Polestar was no better. Some Polestar 2s simply switched off while driving, the software had significant bugs, and the Gothenburg-based Chinese urgently needed to make improvements.
In contrast to Volkswagen, Polestar deals with the problems more openly and has one Support page for current software problems that keep appearing in new variants.
The problems of the auto industry are closely monitored by those who know software from birth. The IT industry knows its strengths and sees the market of the next decades, which will be limitless and lucrative. With Europe and China, the most important regions have committed themselves to the electric car, driven by subsidies.
The risk is low, and this fillet is too tasty to not be eaten.
IT giants are getting ready for the storm
It is therefore not surprising when the IT giants set out to revolutionize the auto industry. You will do this in the usual way. The hardware, which will be less and less interesting in terms of added value, can continue to be built by others. Design, software and infrastructure make up the user experience and the added value - the IT giants know that.
Anyone who manages to establish a closed ecosystem here opens up the market of the future. Apple, Sony, Baidu and Foxconn and others recognized this long ago. They're just waiting for the perfect time to get started. Baidu, one of the top three search engines focused on China, sees the time is right. The group enters the mobility business and has electric cars built by Geely.
Foxconn, Apple's Taiwanese hardware assembly partner, has also discovered the moving smartphone. Foxconn also recently docked with Volvo owner Geely, but the background remains blurred. The electric cars could be made to order for smaller brands, and Foxconn and Geely are unlikely to produce for Apple.
Because Apple is, once again, in talks with hardware manufacturers to make their own electric car a reality. In addition to a German manufacturer, Hyundai is primarily mentioned. The choice of partner is still open; Apple is more likely than ever to get involved.
Sony's plans have made further progress. The Japanese electronics giant's Vision S Concept is nearing series production and was spotted during test drives on public roads in Austria.
The AI is on board and anticipates wishes
Mercedes showed a foretaste of what the car of the future - and it will not start in 5 years, but tomorrow - look like at CES 2021. Unlike other brands, the manufacturer is traditionally not far from IT, and the MBUX Hyperscreen demonstrates which will soon be standard. Mercedes speaks of an electric aesthetic, because there will only be a single control button left for the user.
The start button.
Everything else is solved via the MBUX hyperscreen with haptic feedback. Artificial intelligence (AI) is always one step ahead of the user and predictively shows what is desired.
In order to get to the relevant applications on the MBUX Hyperscreen, the user does not have to scroll through submenus or enter voice commands. That is why Mercedes calls the system a zero-layer. The most important applications, for example navigation or telephone, are offered - always situational and related to the context - on the top level in the field of vision.
Over 20 other functions - from active massage programs to suggestions for the to-do list - are automatically displayed with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer.
This forecast shows how thoroughly the electric car analyzes its passengers. There are no more secrets, the AI researches travelers down to the smallest detail. The resulting treasure trove of data is so extensive that only the imagination can set limits to its utilization.
Impressive IT infrastructure
The hyperscreen therefore has computing power that in 1969 would have been enough for a whole armada of moon landings at once. The data reads impressive.
A total of twelve actuators are located under the touchscreen surfaces for haptic feedback during operation. If the finger touches certain points there, they trigger a noticeable vibration in the cover disk. Eight CPU cores, 24 gigabytes of RAM and 46,4 gigabytes per second of RAM memory bandwidth are among the highlights.
That alone is not enough, of course. The hyperscreen communicates permanently with the cloud, asks, compares and updates. The effort of the IT infrastructure for smartphones on wheels is gigantic; Nobody analyzes the consumption of resources for what we so belittled as a cloud, but in truth are energy-guzzling data centers.
Because as fascinating as the progress and its resulting possibilities are, a critical questioning of what we are doing could lead to answers that we do not like. So let's not even try.