Technology: Infotainment of the future: Driven by China

The plans were lofty.

Technology: Infotainment of the future: Driven by China

The plans were lofty. In order not to miss out on autonomous driving, Audi, Mercedes and BMW got together seven years ago and put around 2.8 billion euros on the table to secure the Here map service. The premium manufacturers, who otherwise fight bitterly for market share, agreed on one thing: without precise maps, the robo-cars end up in a technological dead end. And they didn't want to be reduced to being a service provider for data-hungry competitors from the USA (Google) or China. The next consequence of this desired independence was the installation of our own infotainment development centers.

VW spent a lot of money and built the software company Cariad from the ground up. Not only the core brand should stand on its own two feet when it comes to algorithms, but the entire company. One had the feeling that anyone who knew three lines of the entry-level programming language Basic received an employment contract. The bits and bytes founding frenzy has now been followed by disillusionment. Cariad mutates into a grave of billions. A key factor in the difficulties: In addition to the future programs, the software architects were also supposed to renovate the software of existing corporate models and got bogged down. The result: The E3 2.0 software, touted with great praise, comes with the new SSP platform, which will only be introduced in the second half of the decade. There are problems at all ends. VW is pulling the ripcord, apparently wants to cut thousands of jobs and is getting Google on board with the intotainment software interim step E3 1.2 in the form of the Android Automotive operating system. Even though the savvy marketing specialists praise the App Store eloquently, this alliance is an admission of failure. In view of the software problems that VW had to contend with, this cooperation should only bring advantages for drivers. It is not yet clear whether the 2.0 version comes from our own algorithms as extensively as announced. Here too, the quandary consisting of cost-cutting constraints and functional problems could continue to keep the door open for Android Automotive or Google.

But the Wolfsburg-based company is not the only one who brings the former “enemy” into the software bed. Ultimately, the programmers in Shanghai and Silicon Valley are proposing an ever faster pace that some established manufacturers can no longer and do not want to keep up with. The cars of the future are more lounge and habitat than fun vehicles. Mercedes can no longer manage the software revolution alone. The Mercedes technicians developed the operating system themselves; since it is based on Linux, it is open to partners like Nvidia who are working on the robo-car. But for Android Automotive. The Swabians use the operating system of the future MB.OS and create a platform on which various Android apps run. So does Google Maps and other services. “The goal is to make MB.OS so good that you don’t have to mirror the phone,” says Mercedes development director Markus Schäfer, making the intention of the collaboration clear. But it is also clear that Google is not a charity company, but rather pays for its participation in the new, beautiful Mercedes world. Experts assume an annual license fee in the double-digit million range. At least. “We don’t comment on numbers”; the Mercedes boss weighs it down and adds: “It’s a win-win situation.” Time will tell whether both partners are equally happy with the partnership.

BMW is taking a similar approach with its OS 9, which is also based on Linux and whose infotainment module integrates Android Automotive including the app store, which is tailor-made for the Munich-based company. Here too, the user behavior of drivers driven from the Far East plays an important role, as they want to enjoy the smartphone multimedia experience in the car. The joy of driving becomes the joy of watching and playing. After all, you want to be entertained in traffic or while waiting. In China, many people also use their car as a place to retreat to during breaks.

Many German manufacturers are reaching out to meet customer expectations. Geely brands such as Polestar and Volvo took a different path a few years ago and openly declared their cooperation with Google and Android respectively. However, the operating logic and appearance of the infotainment system do not always match the smoothness of smart mobile phones. BMW and Mercedes are ahead.

With its models like the Opel Astra, Stellantis takes a less opulent route in terms of graphics and functionality, but relies largely on homemade software. But in Paris and Rüsselsheim, too, people are bowing to the pleasure-seeking zeitgeist and developing the infotainment system of the future with Amazon. So here too it doesn't work without outside help.