Henry Ford may not have actually said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. But the automotive pioneer’s apocryphal quote has become commonplace in business and innovation circles.
More than a century after the Model T first hit the roads, those mythical words still resonate, not only because they shed light on a core truth of innovation – that groundbreaking developments come not only from listening to what customer say they want, but from devising more creative and ingenious ways of meeting their needs – but also because they are a reminder of how much the car itself has been transformed.
For the automobile’s first few decades, it was easy to think of the vehicle as a faster, more efficient way to get from A to B. But with the gradual introduction of more and more features – safety mechanisms like airbags, navigation and entertainment systems, and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – the car has become much more than a conveyor. It’s now an information and data center on wheels running on hundreds of millions of lines of code.
With the introduction of each new sleek, advanced feature, consumer expectations increase in tandem. And for all the distance autotech has already traveled, there’s a long way yet to go – from progressively greater levels of autonomy to the rollout of amenities like in-car gaming. Amid this profound paradigm shift in how consumers think of vehicles, OEMs will need to adapt to deliver the immersive in-vehicle experiences customers expect.
This will require a new vehicular architecture that enables automakers to ensure seamless vehicle connectivity while providing them the freedom to evolve to meet ever-increasing market demands.
Why Zonal Architecture Fits the Bill
To power the next generation of automotive innovation in scalable way, OEMs should embrace a zonal architecture for new models.
Zonal architectures support the complex demands of cars’ electronic/electrical (E/E) systems, enabling automakers to meet the computational and communication requirements of today’s connected vehicles while offering the flexibility needed to integrate new features as consumer demands increase.
CES 2021 spotlighted how the shift toward a zonal architecture will be critical to the automotive industry’s future, particularly as automakers announce plans to transition to entirely electric lineups in the coming years.
GM, for instance, seized the opportunity to outline its vision of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” Realizing that bold ambition will rely heavily on the company’s Ultium battery system, which offers 60% more energy capacity, consumes less physical space within the vehicle architecture, and provides the flexibility required for a range of makes and models – thereby enabling the automaker to switch to an all-electric fleet by 2035.
Compared to traditional automotive architectures, the zonal model reduces complexity by nearly eliminating complex hardware requirements. Instead, zonal architectures allow for vehicle functionalities to be executed in the cloud – vastly increasing computational power without adding bulk or cost.
Driving Innovation Forward
As vehicles integrate more autonomous features and a range of infotainment services to enhance the experience for drivers and passengers, they will become more software-defined.
Accordingly, it is critical that the technology underpinning these vehicles be secure-by-design. Automakers will rely on strategic partnerships with technology suppliers to ensure that their models are equipped with high-performance, secure, scalable solutions.
Mobility has come a long way from the days when what most people wanted was a faster horse – but with a flexible approach to innovation, automakers will be able not only to keep up with mounting consumer expectations, but also to redefine what is possible.