Ford CEO Jim Farley details the clusterf*ck of software development for legacy auto

    During a new interview, Ford CEO Jim Farley details what a nightmare it is for legacy automakers, transitioning to EVs, to develop software.

    The Everything Electric Show podcast with Robert Llewellyn has a great new 44-minute interview with Farley, who admits and details the momentous struggles of transitioning from ICE to EV.

    This change represents far more than many realise, it’s not just switching an engine, fuel tank, and exhaust for an electric motor and a battery, EVs are ultimately software on wheels.

    When you take the elements required to make electric vehicles and the dozens of computers required to perform the functions of a modern, competitive EV, you have to have software that you control and Ford realises this, committing to in-house the development of these components, to give them ultimate control over the end-user experience.

    Around the 25-minute mark, the pair begin discussing the challenges of vehicle software at Volkswagen.

    Farley said at Ford, they had taken the approach of ‘farming out’ the modules that controlled the vehicle to create a competitive landscape between part suppliers, largely in an effort to drive cost down.

    Farley estimates there’s something in the vicinity of 150 modules or semiconductors throughout the car, which obviously creates a vast challenge when it comes to making everything work together. In vehicles, data is transferred using the Controller Area Network (CAN bus), but when it comes time to update any of the code, there’s a massive problem.

    Even though it says Ford on the front, I actually have to go to Bosche to get permission to change their seat control software.

    Jim Farley, Ford CEO

    Just take a look at the stunned look on the face of Llewellyn when he hears this information, he’s amazed, as am I that this is what they’re dealing with at legacy OEM.

    Farley goes on to explain that the Intellectual Property of the software running in their car belongs to the supplier. Known as the ‘loose confederation of software providers’, these 150 software providers write their millions of lines of code in different programming languages, which if you know anything about programming, you’ll realise means you can forget about writing efficient, fast code.

    Structurally this programming logic would also be very different and after hearing this, I’m amazed at how little Ford knows about the software running on their vehicles, with Farley saying ‘we can’t even understand it all.’

    In the second generation electric vehicles, due around 2025, Ford is trying to correct this, but completely insourcing, or bringing in-house the electric architecture, which also means writing all the software themselves.

    Even scarier, is just how clear Farley makes it that legacy automakers have almost no software experience, they will need to write the software that makes the vehicle work, for the very first time.

    If you’re a software developer, chances are, there will be a few jobs coming up at the Blue Oval soon.

    Something Tesla has done very well since the introduction of the Model S, was understand this and that means they now have almost a decade of experience under their belt and very easily, very regularly, deploy software to millions of vehicles across the world without issue. That software change can span from a simple UI element to changing the way the energy recovery system works, or even increasing the performance output of the electric motors by 5%.

    Once you mast software, the possibilities are almost endless and time and time again we’ve seen customers suggest features and just a couple of months later, they’re implemented in the vehicle.

    This simply isn’t possible with the way legacy auto had been relying on 3rd parties for software. Farley said this was an important part of splitting the company up. This tells me that you shouldn’t expect many, if any software updates to ICE vehicles.

    In recent years, we’ve seen auto companies hand over control of the software experience to mobile platforms like Apple’s CarPlay and Android OS. While they may still be supported in the future, I think we’re seeing a real shift from Ford here and others like VW who have struggled with software development, may eventually work out, they need to do the same.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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