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  • Writer's pictureMeirav Peleg Landau

Transforming Vehicles into Software Platforms

Updated: Jan 3

MPL Innovation

In the world of automobiles, a profound transformation is in progress. Car manufacturers are increasingly turning their vehicles into software platforms, ushering in a new era in the automotive industry. The idea is simple yet groundbreaking: cars are no longer static machines but dynamic platforms that can be modified and updated through software. This innovation has far-reaching implications for car owners, changing how we perceive car ownership and control. In this article, we explore this shift towards cars as software platforms, highlighting key examples and the controversies surrounding this trend.

car as a platform

The BMW Revolution

In July 2020, BMW introduced a development that shook the automotive world. The company unveiled a concept that turned cars into software-based platforms, redefining the traditional relationship between drivers and their vehicles. Under this new paradigm, BMW cars are not merely products but adaptive platforms that can be customized through software updates.

With this innovation, BMW allows remote activation or deactivation of various services based on customer preferences and agreed-upon terms. Drivers now have the flexibility to subscribe to services like heated seats whenever they need them, be it in the winter or summer. The car becomes adaptable to the owner's specific needs at any given time. However, if the car changes hands, the new owner will discover that some features are linked to specific users, requiring a subscription to maintain these services. This dynamic marks a significant shift in car ownership as users relinquish exclusive control over their vehicles' capabilities.

Mercedes-Benz Joins the Trend

Following in BMW's footsteps, Mercedes-Benz introduced an "Acceleration Increase" subscription. This offering allows drivers to pay for a boost in motor performance, unlocking the full potential of their vehicle. The subscription increases power output by 20-24% and decreases acceleration time. While these enhancements are already physically present in the vehicle, Mercedes decided to restrict access, implementing this optional subscription, signaling a contentious trend of monetizing existing capabilities.

Tesla: The King of Over-the-Air Updates

Tesla, a pioneer in over-the-air updates, has found itself in the middle of a controversy. The company remotely disabled driver assistance features on a used Model S after it was sold to a new owner, claiming they didn't pay for these features. This move by Tesla underscores its unique control over its cars' features, raising questions about what owners can expect in the future. This issue has ignited discussions about car ownership and control in a world increasingly dominated by software-driven vehicles.

John Deere: Farming's Right to Repair

The concept of cars as software platforms isn't limited to consumer vehicles. John Deere, a significant player in the agricultural equipment market, has faced criticism for limiting farmers' ability to repair their tractors and combines. The company's dominance has led to concerns about its control over proprietary software, which only authorized technicians can access. This control has resulted in delays and additional costs for farmers and consumers, igniting debates about the right to repair in an era of software dominance.

Advantages of Cars as Software Platforms

Customization - The ability to customize your car's features through software updates allows for greater personalization. Drivers can tailor their vehicles to suit their preferences, whether it's heated seats in the winter or enhanced performance during a road trip.

Flexibility - Car manufacturers can offer flexible subscription models, allowing users to access features temporarily, reducing upfront costs, and providing convenience.

Enhanced Performance - Owners gain access to a substantial boost in their vehicle's performance, improving acceleration and driving experience.

Continuous Improvements - Over-the-air updates enable car manufacturers to continually improve vehicle performance, safety, and features without requiring physical visits to service centers.

Product Integrity - Manufacturers can maintain the integrity of their products, ensuring that repairs meet quality standards.

Challenges and Disadvantages of Cars as Platforms

Ownership Complexity - With features tied to software subscriptions, the line between owning and renting a vehicle blurs. Car owners may find themselves paying extra for features they assumed were included with the purchase.

Data Privacy Concerns - As cars collect more data for these software-driven features, concerns arise regarding how this data is used and whether it's adequately protected.

Monetization of Existing Features - Restricting access to already present capabilities and charging extra for them raises questions about fairness and consumer trust.

Repair Access - Restrictions on repairability can increase costs for farmers and consumers. It limits the ability to troubleshoot and fix essential machinery in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Security Concerns - As vehicles evolve into sophisticated software-driven platforms, they become more susceptible to cyberattacks and security breaches.

The Software-Driven Future

The transformation of cars into software platforms is reshaping the automotive landscape. While it offers convenience, personalization, and innovation, it also sparks controversies about control, ownership, and access to essential features. As vehicles evolve into software-driven platforms, the debate over these practices intensifies, pushing for greater transparency and consumer rights in an increasingly software-driven world. The automotive industry is at a crossroads, where the notion of car ownership and control is being redefined for the digital age.


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