02 October, 2020

Functions at driver’s fingertips

Updates

The worlds of smartphones and cars are colliding. Vehicle manufacturers are discussing batteries, connectivity and now, over-the-air-updates. Consumers are being handed the keys to greater car customisation, all through their mobile phones.

Alongside the likes of Tesla, both Audi and Ford are now offering functions on demand for some of their newer models. Customisable features can range from LED headlights to infotainment packages and performance updates, all obtainable with a connection to the internet.

Functions on demand

For the first time, Audi is offering its customers in Germany and Norway the chance to book selected functions on demand, even after purchasing the vehicle. Areas like lighting, driver-assistance, and infotainment can all be customised online via myAudi.

Over-the-air-updates are currently available for fully electric e-Tron models and the current A4, A5, A6, A7, Q5, Q7 and Q8, with other product lines and functions to follow. Available functions are all currently dependent on the vehicle model and market.

E-Tron customers can upgrade their LED headlights to matrix LED headlights with automatic high beams in the lighting package. Meanwhile, MMI navigation plus and the Audi smartphone interface make up the infotainment package. The rates for functions on demand are based on the classic price list. Customers can even book a one-month test phase to get to know a function before fully committing to it. 

Booking and payment are handled via the app or the myAudi web portal. After the booking process is completed, a signed data package is sent straight to the car over the mobile network, with functions coming online the next time it starts up. The booked functions will live on for the remaining term, even if the car is sold on. The next owner can also re-customise the vehicle to meet their own specific needs.

An evolving car

In May, Ford announced the Mustang Mach-E would continuously improve via over-the-air-updates. The carmaker explained that owners will not need to wait to install new software, as this would take place in the background, and could be completed in under two minutes in some cases.

Owners will get notifications detailing the updates when they are available. The software can then be applied using WiFi or cellular connections, depending on the update. Owners will be able to choose when these take place, either in the middle of the night or almost instantaneously when the vehicle starts up. 

‘The beauty of the Mustang Mach-E is that what our customers experience on day one is just the beginning – it will evolve to add even more features and capabilities over time,’ said John Vangelov, connected services manager at Ford. ‘Our clever over-the-air updates also minimise downtime through incredibly fast activation and ensure your Mustang Mach-E is always getting better, even when you’re asleep.’

Even before it has arrived, Mach-E owners will be able to pre-configure their car ahead of delivery with a remote vehicle setup feature. Customers can create a personalised profile, saving their daily departure times, preferred cabin comfort settings,  and frequent locations, including nearby charging stations.

OEMs play catch-up

‘Functions on demand are on-trend and showcase software competence on top of hardware competence, something that many OEMs have been lacking,’ said Autovista Group’s Chief Economist, Christof Engelskirchen. ‘On-demand functions should be targeted at very-premium functionalities to avoid negative repercussions on remarketing potential.’

‘The opportunity to pay a monthly fee for an extra 50 horsepower may increase the desirability of a used car. Having to pay a monthly fee for seat heating, A/C or DAB radio may have the opposite effect, in particular, because there is a high uncertainty with regard to the pricing model further along the life of a vehicle,’ he added.

In a recent podcast, Daily Brief journalist Tom Geggus spoke with Szabolcs Jánky, head of product management for aiSim at AImotive, about how over-the-air-software updates are shaping the future of vehicles.