In an era where electric vehicle (EV) companies issue dire warnings of insolvency, the automotive industry finds itself grappling with a daunting predicament: the prevalence of vehicles heavily reliant on proprietary software.

As Automotive News reported on April 6, 2024, this situation poses a significant challenge to the industry and requires urgent attention.

Fisker and Canoo

Consider the cases of Fisker Inc. and Canoo, two prominent US players in the EV market. Both companies have emphasised the critical role of software in their vehicles. Fisker champions continuous software updates and user interface enhancements, while Canoo touts purpose-built hardware and software integration for seamless functionality. Yet, amidst financial uncertainty, the fate of these innovative features hangs precariously in the balance.

According to Reuters, the US auto safety regulator has launched a preliminary investigation into Fisker’s 2023 Ocean SUVs following complaints of intermittent door failures and other issues. Fisker’s financial challenges, coupled with a recent delisting from the NYSE, compound the company’s woes. Similarly, Canoo has forecasted significantly lower 2024 revenue amid a broader decline in demand for battery-powered cars. Despite supplying electric delivery vans to Walmart and crew vehicles to NASA, Canoo struggles to secure sufficient capital amidst uncertain market conditions.

Software-reliant vehicles

The reliance on software in modern vehicles extends beyond performance enhancements to critical cybersecurity measures. However, in the event of manufacturer bankruptcy, the continuity of software support becomes uncertain, leaving vehicles vulnerable to unresolved issues and security threats. The closure of automaker operations could further exacerbate challenges for ongoing maintenance and updates, raising concerns about the safety and reliability of software-reliant vehicles.

Moreover, while dealerships may possess some expertise, the aftermarket’s ability to handle complex software issues remains uncertain. Proprietary software development favoured by established automakers complicates third-party repair possibilities, potentially leading to a monopoly over maintenance services.

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Aftermarket providers

In light of these challenges, the “right to repair” movement is gaining newfound relevance. Access to vehicle source code could empower independent repair shops to address software-related issues, safeguarding consumer choice and promoting market diversity. However, the complexity of modern software-defined vehicles presents formidable obstacles for aftermarket providers.

As both the US and the UK grapple with increasing reliance on software-driven vehicles amidst industry instability, proactive measures from automotive stakeholders and government bodies are essential. Collaboration between manufacturers, regulators, and aftermarket providers is crucial to safeguarding car drivers and maintaining trust in the industry.

Navigating the complexities of software-reliant vehicles requires decisive action to ensure a safer, more resilient future for the automotive sector on both sides of the Atlantic.

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