Urging automakers to 'open up the black box,' Karl-Thomas Neumann, Volkswagen's director of electronic research, said open standards for electrical and software architecture are the key for future competitiveness.
The industry has been at least slowed - and possibly harmed - by too great a focus on proprietary systems in areas where other industries have leaped ahead using open architecture, he said. Automakers fear losing control, but their solutions often are slower or less comprehensive than those reached by sharing software design in the open market.
'Who takes responsibility? This is the question I most often hear. But the software in any mobile phone comes from at least four or five different parties, and somehow it works,' Neumann said.
He urged the automotive industry to adopt a more enlightened approach to intellectual property.
'If you separate hardware and software, what is the value of the software? Is it nothing? How is intellectual property created? Other industries are way ahead on how they treat intellectual property and share it,' he said.
In the future the best thing would be to have vehicles with a common electronic architecture so that many devices could easily be incorporated, Neumann said.
Then the differentiation between vehicles would be how many such devices were available, rather than how such devices operated together, he said.
Reaching such a standard of linking electronic interfaces is vital if automakers want to include the latest technology in electronics.
'It creates the economies of scale we need if you have standard components then you can plug and play,' he said.
Without such linking interfaces, every new electronic device is too expensive to include in volume production vehicles, and automakers find themselves lagging behind consumer expectations.