Cars drive by fully electric battery powered include high-tech operational systems that differ dramatically from gas-powered systems. EVs are highly dependent on software–not just the infotainment system or within the touchscreen, but from bumper to bumper. These are “software-defined vehicles”, an industry term that illustrates the difference between a car enhanced by technology and a car controlled by technology.
The problem with software, especially in the first version, is that it can contain errors; just ask Applewhich allegedly caused the software issues iPhone 15 models become excessively warm. As a result, software bugs can cause both obvious and phantom problems that are difficult to pinpoint within a mountain of code.
Although the push for fully electric vehicles is increasing due to both competitive one-upmanship And encouragement from the governmentsome manufacturers (including GM, Volkswagen and Volvo) make every effort to evaluate their software development process. For example, GM has postponed production of its electric trucks, including the Chevy Silverado RST and GMC Sierra Denali EVs, at its Ohio factory until the end of 2025. Volvo has postponed deliveries by its new EX30 due to software problems. As the saying goes: measure twice, cut once.
It’s a common belief among consumers that it’s a bad idea to buy the first model year of a car. In the past, more people believed that manufacturers needed a year to “work out the bugs” before the car was ready for mass distribution. However, today’s automakers are more efficient than ever before, and are more likely to build on shared platforms and components proven by specialty manufacturers. Software, on the other hand, is a wide open universe, and the code varies from vehicle to vehicle.
EV specialist Tesla has released a series of over-the-air updates to correct software issues. Some are small, like the most recent recall with regard to the size of the brake warning; others have significantly more impact, such as those that affect the car’s driver assistance function. In most cases these are over-the-air updates solving the problem without customers having to take their vehicle to a physical location.
Ford (and its luxury arm Lincoln) has moved to expand its internal software development team for the brand’s new infotainment system. In the past, the company was dependent on suppliers for hardware and software That’s what Ford’s technical specialists say Bringing development in-house is faster, cheaper and results in higher quality.
Smaller automakers may not have the resources and personnel to make such a large investment in technology infrastructure, and therefore their future depends on external suppliers. Either way, collecting lines of code is a major shift in the automotive industry, and growing pains seem inevitable.
Ed Kim, president and chief analyst of automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, points out that older automakers face a difficult task. They have to learn very quickly how to create comprehensive software for cars, when for a long time their expertise consisted of the physical nuts, bolts and components that make cars up.
“In the emerging software-defined era, software is absolutely integral and critical to all aspects of a vehicle’s operation, but software is outside the realm of expertise for most automakers,” says Kim. “They are currently learning at a breakneck pace and recruiting expertise from the technology industry to help them not only understand and integrate software into their vehicles, but also understand how they can innovate for the benefit of consumers and take the car to places can take it where it has never been before. ”
Eradicating the software bugs
Even EV companies born into the battery-electric world are not immune to the same software challenges. Rivian, one of America’s newest manufacturers, accidentally set fire to the infotainment system and main instrument display of some customers’ vehicles in November with a “fat fingers” error during its rollout.
Rivian’s vice president of software engineering Wassym Bensaid posted an explanation on Rivian’s subreddit page:
“We made a mistake with the OTA update 2023.42: a big finger where the wrong build was shipped with the wrong security certificates,” Bensaid said. “We have canceled the campaign and will restart it with the appropriate software that has gone through the various beta testing campaigns. The service will contact affected customers and discuss resolution options. In some cases this may require physical repair.”
Chevrolet began taking deliveries of the highly anticipated 2024 Blazer EV in the middle of last year, then withdrew the vehicle in December after a major software issue. Car area Edmunds bought a Blazer EV as a long-term test vehicle, and the SUV returned 23 fault codes within the first two months, confusing the team.
“The consequences of using software incorrectly – even if it can be resolved quickly over the air – can be much more serious (than on a smaller device),” says Kim. “A software bug that can cause inconvenience with a faulty smartphone app could be catastrophic and life-threatening in a car.”
During GM’s fourth-quarter earnings call last week, CEO Mary Barra told investors that GM’s software and services team is working “with a tremendous sense of urgency” to solve the challenges facing its new electric car. The good news for GM and other automakers is that while software errors are inevitable, they are not irreversible. With the upcoming launches of the Chevy Equinox EV, Silverado EV RST, GMC Sierra EV Denali and Cadillac Escalade IQ on the horizon, the existing production group is adding some extra time for vetting and testing. It’s a smart strategy for GM and its customers that will pay off in the long run.