Last week, Volkswagen’s supervisory board reportedly told management that it needed to work on improving the company’s software division. Though that should hardly be surprising considering how often digital glitches have delayed product launches and forced the automaker to issue sweeping recalls.
Software gremlins stymied the launch of numerous ID-badged EVs, the Mk8 Golf, and a handful of other vehicles from VW Group’s many subsidiaries. But the issues have persisted, with customers citing electrical troubles and noting that the automaker’s novel touchscreen interfaces are brutally unresponsive. Some of the problems were deemed so heinous that the company eventually recalled literally every current-generation Golf sold within its native Germany. But it’s going to have to do a lot more if it’s serious about leveraging computer code as the cornerstone of an evolving business model and the board of directors seems keenly aware of that fact.
While VW has never been known for delivering automobiles devoid of electrical problems, the issue seems to have worsened since its diesel emissions scandal in 2015. In fact, Volkswagen Group initially responded to accusations of regulatory cheating by suggesting there was simply something wrong with the relevant software. But this turned out to be a convenient excuse for what was later determined to be clever code that was intentionally designed to cheat its way through increasingly stringent testing protocols.
Since then, the auto group has been pivoting toward electric models in the hopes that it can stay on the good side of government regulators and environmentalist mobs. Though software issues have continued to plague the company. Granted, an unresponsive touchscreen is hardly unique for the industry. However, Volkswagen’s issues extended into connectivity features, disabling over-the-air updates and new sources of revenue. While most automakers are currently trying to figure out how to leverage the vehicles connected to the internet for profit (e.g. customer data harvesting, marketing opportunities, hardware lockouts, and downloadable features), German automakers are arguably leading the charge.
Well, they’re trying to anyway.
Volkswagen’s software rollout went rather badly, resulting in Audi being tapped to head the group’s software development efforts in 2020. Now, according to Reuters, the supervisory board wants to see management deliver a totally reworked strategy. There will reportedly be a meeting ahead of the summer break, with top-level leadership expecting real solutions to VW’s ongoing software troubles. However, it sounds as though there may be some confusion as to what’s expected from its own engineers and Cariad — the automaker’s multinational software subsidiary.
Volkswagen has called its software division, which is the central element in its autonomous driving push, “the most ambitious project of our entire industry to tap into the most relevant profit pools of the future”.
Cariad plans to challenge existing software incumbents, including Apple and Tesla, but has hit bumps in the road, which could become a problem for VW boss Herbert Diess, who is responsible for the unit on the group’s management board.
[Der] Spiegel first reported the news, not citing where it obtained the information, adding that the problems at Cariad, which have caused delays to product launches at Europe’s top carmaker, had been discussed at a supervisory board meeting on May 11.
Volkswagen Group has yet not commented on the matter and likely won’t until there’s a compressive strategy in place. After which, you can expect numerous corporate announcements explaining how those pesky software glitches have finally been dealt with. Though something tells me that VW and friends might be better off taking their foot off the throttle of progress for a time so it can focus on the fundamentals. Hurriedly transitioning toward a lineup of perpetually connected, all-electric vehicles by 2030 probably isn’t a goal worth pursuing if the resulting products are plagued with issues or stranded on assembly lines because of component shortages and bad computer code.
But even this assumes there will be widespread acceptance of EVs among the middle-and-lower classes. In truth, Volkswagen will need to court drivers in a way that makes electric vehicles appear truly desirable. Electrified range, especially when it’s tied to Europe’s Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), are frequently optimistic representations of what’s possible under real-world conditions. Despite making major headway on the global market, EVs are still viewed by many as niche vehicles for well-heeled people who don’t need to drive long distances. While the industry is working to change that by improving its range, Volkswagen has seemingly languished behind the curve.
Worse still, the vehicles themselves are becoming increasingly politicized. Part of this is unavoidable due to EVs being intrinsically tied to tightening government regulations and sizable subsidies. But it’s not going to help sales when a large percentage of the population feels like alternative-energy powertrains are being forced into their respective driveways. Again, these aren’t problems that are unique to Volkswagen. It just happens to be one of the first legacy automakers to stake its entire future on going electric with a strong emphasis on cutting-edge software. Someone probably should have told the company that it’s unwise to declare victory before the battle has begun. VW is now playing catch up while the whole world takes note of its lackluster progress and really only has itself to blame.
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