‘Software-defined vehicles’: The future of automotive technology?

Software is a big topic for automakers attending CES 2023 in January. BMW, Stellantis, Volkswagen and a joint venture between Honda and Sony have introduced concept or upcoming models that rely significantly on computers and code. The lesson is clear: More and more vehicles will be run from top to bottom using software, not hardware. In some cases, the future is already here.

What will shoppers be like when vehicles are dominated by bits and bytes instead of gears and pads? Edmunds experts break down what’s in store.


The phrase “software-defined vehicle” is an industry term used to clarify the difference between technology-enhanced traditional cars and technology-powered cars.

While cars of the past 20 years have had touchscreens and plenty of computing power related to engines and safety, those software features are largely stuck after the car rolls off the road. Assembly line. The future assumes that nearly every vehicle feature will be controlled by software, which offers the ability to improve features over time.

Another important difference is updateability. Consider smartphones. Their manufacturers regularly update their software seamlessly to fix bugs and violations and add functionality. Software-defined vehicles work similarly. They have the high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity that automakers use to send software updates via the cloud to their vehicles. Owners do not need to bring their vehicle to a dealer or service center.


Tesla is a pioneer in adding software-based features to its vehicles. Over the years, it has introduced improvements to the touchscreen interface and added new features such as video games. It even releases updates that enhance the vehicle’s performance. Startup EV brands Lucid and Rivian are following suit, using over-the-air updates to give their vehicles new features and functionality and roll out bug fixes.

The software also allows the introduction of features that were not possible before. Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury arm, is using facial recognition and fingerprint scanning with its new all-electric GV60 crossover. A physical key is needed to set up both functions, but then the owner can do basic operations on the vehicle as easily as a smartphone.

Established companies are also jumping in. Last summer, Ford used software to enable its BlueCruise hands-free driving system on tens of thousands of F-150s and Mustang Mach-Es. The media has pre-installed hardware for the system; The over-the-air update has been completed. It applies to wireless cars without going to a dealer.

Maintenance is another potential advantage. These highly digital vehicles can monitor preventive and predictive maintenance and even diagnose problems remotely. It takes the guesswork out of what could go wrong and what needs to be adjusted without going to a mechanic or dealer.


The software enables new features that were not possible before. But sometimes these features are not great in practice. For example, Tesla and Rivian use touchscreen-based controls to control the airflow of the cabin vents. It sounds neat in theory but turns out to be a complicated and distracting process when driving in the real world. Old fashioned vents that you manually adjust will work better.

Software crashes and glitches also matter. Problems that PC users are all too familiar with can appear in cars. It could be the touchscreen goes blank and doesn’t work while driving, some controls don’t work properly, or advanced driver assistance features haven’t been tested as fully as they should be. must be present before being added to the vehicle.

The risks of software crashes and privacy violations are real problems. It’s not out of the question that someone with bad intentions hijacks a car and causes damage. In addition, some experts both applaud the technology and advise caution as it relates to personal data privacy: the more data is collected from drivers, the more likely it is to hacked.


The software will continue to evolve to transform the vehicle ownership experience. Test driving different new vehicles will let you know how much digital functionality you like. You can enjoy the opportunity for a quick repair or update over Wi-Fi. But tech-averse shoppers will likely prefer a vehicle with a more traditional design, which may include buying a used car.


This story was provided to The Associated Press by automotive website Edmunds

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