Over-the-air updates reduce automobiles’ recall rates, consultant says

September 23, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Up to 70 % of the recalls in major automotive markets are due to software glitches. While recall will not only leave a dent on OEMs’ reputation, but also lead to multi-billion dollar losses, alternative methods of repair are much searched after in the automotive industry. Over-the-air updates, established as the method of choice in consumer electronics and mobile telecommunications, could make many recalls redundant, believes consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Today, volume cars have at least 20 million to 30 million lines of software code (LOC) in their electronic systems. In premium cars, the deployment of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, comfort electronic and sophisticated infotainment systems amount of the installed software could be as high as 100 million LOC. And the value of software in vehicles is expected to increase as much as 50% by 2020. This makes it imperative for OEMs to manage the software efficiently over the lifecycle of the vehicle. This is why they are increasingly taking to wireless technologies such as over the air (OTA) updates. This technology not only lowers operating costs - including warranty and recall costs -, but also offers new functional updates to customers.

Audi recently started providing new features such as parking and gas prices using OTA updates on its Audi connect solution, while GM has been offering OTA updates to its Bluetooth platform using the OnStar embedded connectivity platform. Both Tesla and Chrysler provide firmware OTA (FOTA) through an embedded 3G data connection in the car or a Wi-Fi router. Other carmakers that offer this technology include Toyota, Mercedes Benz and BMW.

OTA is a potential game changer with its ability to fix bugs and enhance features without requiring a physical connection to the vehicle. Once OEMs upgrade to this infrastructure, they are likely to experience a rapid and dramatic improvement in vehicle performance and customer satisfaction, and a steep dip in costs. “With connected vehicles on the road, real-time data probing and collection techniques, software OTA (SOTA) and FOTA are not limited to the infotainment space,” said Frost & Sullivan Automotive and Transportation Industry Analyst Krishna Jayaraman.

Software vendors Red Bend and Vector Informatik recently announced an OTA solution that can be used to update the software on the engine control unit's flash drive. This will enable OEMs to directly interface with the vehicle and send out updates in