Driving into the digital age: your car as your pc

The automotive industry stands on the brink of a revolution, with the advent of Car 2.0: vehicles that are no longer just machines but software platforms on wheels. This transition is akin to the leap from wired to smartphones, promising a future of limitless personalization and self-driving capabilities. However, realizing this vision requires a fundamental shift from the mechanical to the digital—a transformation at the core of the automotive evolution.

Limitless personalisation, self-driving journeys, unprecedented comfort, accident-free traffic, robust connectivity ... We all have a good idea of where the automotive industry and our personal mobility are headed. But it can’t be realised to its full potential by sticking to the formula we have grown accustomed to for so long. Cars, as we’ve known them, based around a mechanical skeleton that gradually became increasingly digitised, will be transformed at their core. The hardware is no longer taking centre stage; software replaces it.

The name says it all. With software-defined vehicles (SDVs) all functions are ideally governed by program code instead of hardware. It is more or less a reversed role. Where mechanics have gotten computerised over the years, the nerve centre of tomorrow’s car will be digital with the hardware, ranging from underpinnings over suspension, tyres and a steering wheel, turning into the add-ons. Controlling a car will eventually become by-wire, untethered, with a mechanical connection only serving as a backup.

Don’t miss our CEO’s insights on the rise of software-defined vehicles by watching the full interview.

Tower of Babylon

What’s wrong with current architectures? Well, they are inelastic and complex. Every function, from door locks to airbags, is managed by a separate ECU (Electronic Control Unit), amassing an impressive pile of cables. It is a tricky challenge for engineers to align all these chips and have them communicate with each other seamlessly. It’s like the Tower of Babylon.

SDVs are underpinned by advanced software and computing technology, using centralized domain control units which group and oversee the different vehicle systems and components. The software manages their operational status and makes it possible to customize, personalize, and enhance the driving experience for users. As such, the options list from car makers will turn into app stores, further elaborating on the subscription model. Want to try rear-wheel steering? Here’s your monthly fee.

Car brands seek to free themselves from the web of multiplex components and move towards a limited number of systems that can be easily managed. That’s precisely what SDVs accomplish: reduce complexity and cost, speed up the development time through digital twin technology, improve product quality, and introduce hardware and software flexibility. That flexibility is comparable to smartphones. Where developers build apps that can be used on smartphones from various brands, automotive software suppliers will do the same.

The switch to electric vehicles is rushing the SDV transformation. Their battery management, electric motors and overall controls portray a much higher reliance on software. The gap with a fume-barking, shaky Model T from the previous century couldn’t be wider. But it could also prove that with such old, proven mechanics, one doesn’t get stuck on the 404 route. Software is far from sacred.

Silicon Valley in your car

Automakers always calculate conspicuously how their products evolve. They expect that by 2030, software is to account for as much as half of a new vehicle's value. That's why today, they prepare engineering departments, line-ups and production sites for the arrival of these SDVs.

“The same technology companies behind your smartphone are forging a way into your car's interior. It's blurring the product lines, but it becomes more and more inevitable with the speed of change.”

Ultimately, it will enable vehicles to communicate better with each other and their environment, including infrastructure, buildings, and even pedestrians, and detect the conditions around them - like bad weather. Sensor, cameras, internet connectivity and artificial intelligence all play their role. It's computing power. That's why automakers are moving towards close collaborations with third-party developers from Silicon Valley.

So, the same technology companies behind your smartphone are forging a way into your car's interior. It's blurring the product lines, but it becomes more and more inevitable with the speed of change. Even more so because the in-house software departments of car makers are underperforming and struggle with their lack of expertise. If you can't beat them, enroll them.

The new possibilities created by SDVs pivot around the pillars of safety, convenience, and performance. Still, they also extend to the lifecycle by over-the-air updates, which tighten the relationship between the car and the owner over its lifetime. SDVs will allow consumers to update their vehicles similarly to how they update their mobile phones. They will be able to keep their cars on track with new development technologies to the extent current generation cars are unable to.

This enhanced user experience is of growing importance for the upcoming generations, considered digital natives, who demand a much higher level of cloud connectivity, multimedia, and personalization. These generations have already adopted the new way of thinking, or we should call it the new way of driving.

Nevertheless, the change to SDVs will raise challenges for cyber security and conformity across the playing field. Especially vulnerable are non-critical components like navigation and multimedia, which are easier for malicious actors to access. Cyber protection will become a top priority.

Lastly, SDVs create geopolitical tension. Much of the software know-how and development is centred in the USA and Asia. At the same time, Europe relies heavily on the 'previous-age-knowhow' of its legacy car makers, though in a hurry to maintain momentum. The transition will only complete itself with sacrifices. But all agree SDVs are a must-have on the path towards our mobility of the future and fully autonomous driving vehicles.


Software-defined vehicles represent the next frontier for the automotive world, merging technology with transport in ways previously unimaginable. By making cars more software-centric, we're not just enhancing their features but redefining our relationship with mobility. From improved safety and convenience to fully autonomous driving, the possibilities are endless. Yet, as we navigate this shift, we face challenges in cybersecurity, industry collaboration, and adapting to rapid technological change. In this new era, the journey isn't just about the destination—it's about how we get there, transforming our vehicles into dynamic, connected, and personalized companions for the road ahead.

Geoffrey Heyninck,

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