What is the value of mobility?

The classic automotive industry and the digital world operate according to different, sometimes contradictory principles. Jürgen Müller, software manager at the development service provider IAV, therefore sees himself as a translator and bridge-builder between the systems. In the interview, he describes what car manufacturers can learn from the IT industry and what is important to be able to turn bits and bytes into new business models.

Interview: Ivo Banek, April 2023

Digital services are already shaping the car today and are becoming increasingly important. What does this mean for OEMs?

The car is an attractive space for different companies: They have almost undivided attention there and can fill the time in the vehicle with their offers. Google offers infotainment in the car with its Android operating system and services such as Google Automotive Services – abbreviated as "GAS" – Apple brings its HMI, its user interface, with CarPlay, and Amazon is also looking for a way into the vehicle. 

In direct competition, it will be difficult for OEMs to compete against these players. It is conceivable that hybrid solutions will emerge in which manufacturers will leave certain functions to the tech companies but control their brand-defining features themselves – these are certainly different in a luxury vehicle than in the mass market.

What can the classic automotive industry learn from the IT industry?

Manufacturers must understand and treat their central product – the car – as a software-defined product. They must coordinate their entire world, including their infrastructure, with this. This applies, for example, to update and upgrade capabilities, which are part of "client management" in the IT world.

The industry must deal with the character of the incompletion and align its functions to allow functions to be developed further, that they can be changed – and that changes outside the product do not lead to failures. 

This then also includes the topic of cybersecurity?

Exactly. In IT development, cybersecurity is the center of every system, and it is considered in the design from the very beginning of the development. In my view, this is the next big step that the automotive industry can learn from IT.

At IAV, we have been focusing on this area for years and are constantly developing it, with our Automotive Cyber Defence Center (ACDC) at the heart of it.

What other IT trends are becoming important for the automotive industry?

Work with standards. This is an essential prerequisite for being able to develop new products faster. In IT, quasi-standards are often formed by the proliferation of applications, which are often continually improved as an open-source model. This was the case, for example, with Docker or, at present, with Kubernetes, systems for so-called container infrastructures.

Not everything in the car can be tackled in this way, but I assume that we will see more and more such standards in the development of vehicles as well.

Manufacturers can use our expertise to look at new technologies. As developers, we naturally have a very broad portfolio and are not committed to specific technologies.

With digitization, the amount of data around the car is increasing. The industry has already created a European platform for the controlled exchange of data, Catena-X (see page xx). How critical is data to future business success?

The interesting question is: What successful business models based on data have existed so far? Personalized advertising, accurate maps – but otherwise? Somehow, the cost of collecting and evaluating the data has to be calculated.

There are also possible benefits for the general public: For example, the prediction quality of heavy rain events can be improved if the data from rain sensors in cars is used. This was shown by a study by IAV (LINK). So, if all manufacturers would provide the data of their rain sensors…

… then someone would also have to pay for it. Large amounts of data cost a lot of money. We will not be able to afford the deluge of data those modern systems produce, simply put it somewhere unconditionally and then at some point do anything with it.

The challenge is therefore to collect the relevant data and draw the right conclusions from it. This enables companies to differentiate themselves and develop their own offers, for example a heavy rain forecast. The crucial point is to think about the question of data from the end of monetization: What is the business model for which it can be used?

IAV currently relies heavily on services for software. What does this mean?

Services are a kind of bridge between the digital and physical world. For example, we offer analysis services and services for electric vehicle fleets, for example for charging management. Or our cybersecurity center.

Such services must work for different customers, large and small fleets, and different IT systems. For us, this means a high commitment, for example, in terms of reliability.

The special thing is that we develop many of these services together with a customer. This gives the customer a tailored solution for  his or her problem and the competitive advantage of being the first to work with it. We get new expertise that we can use for further customers – a win-win situation. And then everyone, new and established customers, can benefit from the further developments.

Will digitalization make the car more and more a much-quoted "smartphone on wheels"?

I do not like the expression very much. A car is not a telephone, it is supposed to bring people and things from A to B, that is its basic characteristic. This requires functional safety and must comply with legal requirements. This will continue to be the case in the future.

I see the car more as a technical platform with a backend share, a leased line to the cloud. This interplay opens up new possibilities for mobility concepts. In this, the car is a networked system component.

The challenge is that there is still no good model for calculating the value of mobility. Sometimes it is important to get to your destination as quickly as possible, sometimes time plays a lesser role and quality matters more – comfort or a beautiful route, for example.

In addition, manufacturers are now offering "emotional" features, such as a car color that adapts to the mood of the driver.

It is our nature to humanize things. The style that is important differs considerably in the regions of the world, as it will depend on a high degree of flexibility to adapt such features.

Can such a thing also work in sober Germany?

I think so. If, for example, the car windows are used as screens, this gives new possibilities for the design of the interior, making it more homely. This can create real added value and increase the quality of mobility. And then customers pay for it.

Our expert on the topic

Jürgen Müller
Executive Vice President
Software Systems & Connectivity