Instituting fundamental architecture changes will take more than just coming up with a new vehicle design. Automakers will have to refocus and reorganize themselves away from the hardware-centric approach they've taken for decades.
"We have to let the software be developed in a Silicon Valley way," Marakby said. "That's a mindset change."
He added that Ford has tapped outside talent — partly through its investment in self-driving software company Argo AI and acquisition of Palo Alto, Calif., startup Autonomic Technologies — to aid in this paradigm shift, in addition to relying on veterans within the automaker.
But for an industry that has operated largely in silos, this transition may not be so simple. Aptiv's De Vos said current organizational structures are based around specific vehicle functions, such as powertrain, transmission or electrification, that are set in their own development cycles. These divisions will blur as software takes precedent over hardware.
"Those departments have a tendency toward self-preservation," said De Vos, whose company was spun off by Delphi Corp. as an autonomous-driving technology business. "All those groups are actually software groups now. It's a reprofiling."
He added that to be successful, automakers will have to invest significantly in software engineers while also reducing the cost of integrating new technologies in the vehicle.
They'll also have to move much faster to keep up with the encroaching competition.
"That's a challenge for every single one of them because things are moving more," said Qualcomm's Little. "They're all struggling with how to gear themselves for this rapid innovation dynamic."