More cars will get automatic software updates, study shows

Like a new smartphone, your car may soon get regular software updates to fix problems, improve performance and add new features.

More automakers are likely to follow in the footsteps of Tesla Motors in offering over-the-air updates.

By 2022, more than 200 million vehicles around the world will be able to get over-the-air software updates according to ABI Research, a company that studies technology trends. Nearly one-third of the defects that lead to recalls might be fixed with an over-the-air software update, resolving problems without an inconvenient trip to the dealership and saving automakers up to $6 billion a year.

“Streaming updates to cars is going to be a big play for the auto industry,” said Scott Frank, marketing vice president of Airbiquity, a Seattle-based company specializing in connected-car services. “It’s central to a lot of new things we’re working on.

“Phones and TVs are already updateable. Your car will be, too.”

The number of features that can be affected will surprise you. The first steps will include connecting to the cloud for entertainment and security functions, but Frank says nearly every aspect of how vehicles operate will be affected.

Many updates that now require a trip to the dealer for a software flash — Hyundai’s addition of Apple CarPlay to cars it had sold, for instance — will be handled by beaming new software to the vehicle. Software-only recalls — ideal candidates for streaming updates — affected 3.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last year. That’s nearly a five-fold increase from 2014, a trend likely to continue as vehicles add more software and electronics.

Updates will include fixes, new security to keep up with would-be hackers, and adding features.

“Adding features and improving performance post-purchase is a game-changer for the industry,” Frank said. Potential examples include new transmission programming to increase fuel economy, updated navigation information, and new infotainment apps.

The service will also make new levels of service and repairs possible.

Let’s say you run over a nail. You see an inconvenience, but Frank sees an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

“First, the car sends a warning message that you’re losing tire pressure,” he said. “The car could look for nearby service dealers and centers, download coupons, make an appointment and tell you that service is waiting for you 20 minutes down the road,

“The car is made intelligent by the data and analytics we can offer through the cloud,” Frank said. “It improves your experience as an owner.”

Vehicles capable of all that should be available by 2020, he said.

USA TODAY


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