FRANKFURT — In a move that bucks the industry's general direction in vehicle development, Volkswagen Group has begun informing its global suppliers that they will be off the hook for almost all the software required to operate the advanced parts and technologies running through Volkswagen's cars.
Volkswagen has decided to put itself on that hook.
As to why, look no further than the need for onboard computing. The growing morass of technologies and sensors, wires and computing resources is taking over the automobile. Volkswagen says an average VW vehicle now has about 70 electronic control modules — basically standalone computers — running software from as many as 200 suppliers, all of which have to be integrated by the company to make the vehicle operate correctly.
Volkswagen's goal: Reduce those 70 computers to three. Each will be powerful enough to handle the processing necessary to run its portion of the automobile, using software largely developed in-house that can be easily updated over the air, regardless of the hardware it's running.
And all of it would run off a single electronic architecture.
"We are separating hardware from software," said Christian Senger, the Volkswagen Group board of management member who oversees the automaker's digital activities, including software development, and who has been tasked with this strategic new move.
"Product perception [and] customer satisfaction are more and more dependent on software, so it's a natural step to change the organization and to focus on software as a core competency.
"We are super expert in parts management," he added. "But we had more or less delegated the integration of software to our Tier 1 suppliers. So for us, a lot of software was just a black box — and we see that this doesn't work anymore. So now it's really getting the teams together and defining this new tool chain."