Automobiles of all types have evolved from basic transportation to elaborate “systems of systems,” which incorporate hardware and software components that give consumers a range of software-enhanced experiences. These range from the highly visual multimedia dashboard to the data-driven performance of fuel delivery, braking, and drivetrain systems. To meet market demands, automakers are launching new cars with the latest technologies, or they are substantially re-engineering older models to retain and expand their existing customer base.
This means that advances in automotive technology have led to exponential increases in complexity, competition, and cost. Within the automotive space, perhaps more than in any other industry, these three “Cs” are directly related to each other. Growing complexity derives both from the need to stay competitive within the supply chain and from the tremendous increase in software and systems engineering practices that play the biggest role in vehicle design—all of which impact cost. Specifically, the electrical, electronic, and software components determine 75% of a car's value these days, with up to eighty electronic control units (ECUs) and ten million lines of code per vehicle.
The complex combinations of mechanical and electronic equipment that define today's automotive products are essentially large systems comprised of smaller systems. Relying heavily on software for data-driven performance and competitive differentiation, these “systems of systems” require stakeholders to understand that decisions made during the conceptual design stages impact all other areas of engineering and development.
Never has this sort of detailed understanding of design, materials, suppliers, and processes been more critical. The auto industry has seen a dip in earnings over the past decade, with many bankruptcies or mergers and acquisitions impacting the bottom line. Along the way, rapidly rising prices for raw materials were another factor. To reduce costs and increase profit margins, automotive companies are seeking new ways to cooperate with each other.
The remainder of this article will explore how the recent alignment of automotive manufacturers