Over-the-Air Updates: Your Car’s New Best Friend?

It’s often said that the modern car is transforming into a smartphone on wheels. Cloud connectivity now monitors everything from the satnav to the servicing schedule and your demand for more power from electric motors. To facilitate this, wireless car updates have become indispensable, even though they remain a relatively unfamiliar tool for many. Allow us to give you an update.

Logically, as your car evolves into a digital and connected machine heavily dependent on its software platform, it requires updates—just like any other mobile device running on an operating system. Known as over-the-air updates (OTAs), this type of upgrade serves as a time-saving and cost-cutting tool to fix bugs, enhance onboard convenience, prolong the life cycle of a car, and much more. It’s something we should all become accustomed to.

The shift toward updatable cars isn't solely driven by a tech-savvy group of engineers eager to push boundaries at an automaker's headquarters to stave off competition. Today's customers also have high demands for their cars' capabilities. Both younger generations and new customers in foreign markets desire extensive personalization, state-of-the-art infotainment, and the latest vehicle apps. Simply having a good-looking, well-driving car is no longer enough.

Don’t miss our CEO’s insights on the impact of Over-The-Air-Updates in the automotive landscape by watching the full interview.

*No More Dealerships*

So, what exactly is OTA? It's comparable technology to the updates we receive on our smartphones and computers, allowing car makers to conduct updates remotely via cellular or Wi-Fi networks, which are stored on cloud servers. As such, these updates no longer need to be performed manually at a dealership.

As our cars become increasingly connected, OTAs will be crucial in keeping them updated and in sync with the latest software-driven features. Although systems in combustion-engine cars are often cloud-connected and currently represent the majority of OTA updates, the technology reaches its full potential in the faster-growing class of battery-powered vehicles, where almost every component forms an integral part of the electronic system.

However, this wireless strategy extends beyond mere software. Under the acronym FOTA (Firmware-Over-The-Air), these cloud-connected updates can also manipulate hardware components, such as electronic control units (ECU) that steer and monitor, for example, battery performance, brakes, or aids for semi-autonomous driving. FOTA can make our cars safer, more energy-efficient, and much more.

Escaping from Hurricanes

The scope of OTA is wide. One striking example occurred when a well-known American brand updated the battery pack of all its electric vehicles in and near Florida during Hurricane Irma in 2017. This freed up the total pack capacity, making it less likely to impede escape from the storm. Under more tranquil circumstances, OTA keeps your navigation system's maps accurate, adds Netflix to your infotainment system, or fixes a malfunctioning boot lid, just to cite a few examples. Remote diagnostics and real-time servicing are among its tangible benefits.

“The convenience is evident: your car can be retrofitted with options that were unavailable at launch, impacting its residual value and extending its lifecycle.”

Flip the perspective to the commercial side, and car makers view OTA as a sort of app store. You can subscribe for one year to access your provider's onboard music library, test out the benefits of rear-wheel steering, or a heated armrest. If you stop payment, the perks will be discontinued. For most brands, this pay-per-functionality feature is undergoing trials to verify customer readiness. But the convenience is evident: your car can be retrofitted with options that were unavailable at launch, impacting its residual value and extending its lifecycle.

A Few Hours

Of course, certain conditions must be met before OTAs are performed. The apparent car internet connection must be flawless, and the owner must also give consent, granting the automaker access to the onboard connected services. From that point on, the process usually happens automatically, although some brands or software versions may still require manual intervention.

Is it a lengthy procedure? That depends on the size of the download and signal strength. Generally, the car will need a few hours to complete the process, making it slower than updates on computers or smartphones. Currently, automakers perform two critical updates per year.


OTA technology offers the opportunity to make our cars easier to service while keeping them updated throughout their lifecycle. For automakers adopting this technology, it represents new business opportunities through the unlocking of options by payment or subscription. While bringing along convenience akin to that of smartphones and computers, this technology also brings with it potential hazards. Therefore, automakers must make cybersecurity their highest priority.

Geoffrey Heyninck,

Are you looking for a reliable supplier to buy cars from?

  • For independent and official dealers, leasing companies and rental firms
  • By lot, by batch or by individual vehicle
  • Highly competitive prices
  • Clear, complete and reliable information
  • Efficient logistical and administrative processing
MORE about buying cars

Are you looking for a flexible partner to attain your objective?

  • For manufacturers, importers and major dealer companies
  • Large batches of vehicles
  • Discretely achieve your defined market share, reduce overstocks or create cash flow.
  • Active on a global scale
MORE about selling cars