More Remote Car Software Updates Mean Less Time at the Dealership

Jan 29, 2015 03:30 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma


Vehicle software updates available over the air are becoming popular among automakers, meaning fewer trips to the dealership for customers.

Tesla was the first to popularize remote software updates, which can upgrade vehicle navigation and infotainment apps as well as "firmware," the software used in electronic control units, Automotive News reported.

BMW, Hyundai, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz also have over-the-air software update capability, and other carmakers are expected to join them within the next year and a half.

"We will see a lot more announcements in the coming 12 to 18 months," IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis told Automotive News.

Besides updating maps, calendar and traffic advisory software, Tesla updates can increase a vehicle's top speed. An upgrade last year to Tesla's 85D and P85D Model S offerings bumped the electric cars from a 130-mph top speed to 155 mph.

Suppliers like Harman International Industries Inc. are eager to capitalize on the movement toward remote software updates. The company last week announced that it had acquired Red Bend Software for $170 million and in a separate deal, had purchased Symphony Teleca for $780 million. Red Bend Software deals in software management technology, while Symphony Teleca is a software provider with a focus on Android apps.

"We're going to give [Red Bend] hundreds of software engineers," said Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal. The goal is for automakers to use Red Bend as the "de facto standard," he told Automotive News.

Depending on the type of software update, approval will be needed from the owner. Firmware updates can go through automatically, but infotainment, navigation and other apps will require an OK from the motorist similar to when a smartphone or other device needs to update. Following approval, carmakers can update vehicles when they are parked. 

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