DETROIT -- Electronics have transformed the automobile into a high-tech powerhouse.
But the integration has not been without a few short circuits. Failures of electrical components make up nearly half the warranty costs paid by some automakers.
During a panel discussion of automobile electronics at the SAE World Congress last week, industry executives agreed that some of those warranty costs could be eliminated if the auto industry adopted common electrical architectures with reprogrammable software so that the vehicle's computer is the only thing that changes from year to year.
But automakers likely won't use common electrical architectures because of concerns that doing so would take away some of the uniqueness from each brand, said Doug Patton, senior vice president for Denso International America Inc.
Other topics addressed included:
Kregg Wiggins, vice president of powertrain operations for Siemens VDO Automotive Corp., said that in some cases developing parts continues even after a vehicle is out of production.
"We don't believe in the concept of the Internet on wheels," said panel moderator Bernard Robertson, senior vice president for engineering technologies for the Chrysler group.
"We never want to get away from the visceral feeling of driving. That's where the satisfaction comes from, not the vehicle having its own Web site address."
But Robertson acknowledged that it is an inexact science of knowing when and what options to put on a vehicle.
Citing such gadgets as citizens band radios, integrated cell phones and concierge services that have not been widely embraced by drivers, Robertson said onboard electronics were in some cases a mixed blessing.
Today, a luxury vehicle can have as many as 40 electronic control units, of various sizes and capabilities, to handle such functions as power windows or automatic climate control.
Jacqui Dedo, general manager of marketing for Motorola Inc., noted that electronics are evolving faster than automakers' ability to integrate them into vehicles.
Dedo also acknowledged that quality of electrical components must improve.
"You don't drive your DVD or your laptop down the road with your family," she said.
"We cannot risk losing the trust of the consumer. Components have to pass the rigors of the industry."