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Cybersecurity and recalls will mean over-the-air updates for 203 million cars by 2022

Lucas Mearian | March 16, 2016
Car dealers have a lot to lose when customers no longer need their services to fix software issues.

Imagine having to go to a retail store or use a thumb drive just to upgrade the software on your smartphone or tablet. Soon, consumers may consider it just as outrageous to do the same when updating the software in their vehicles.

Like a smartphone, cars are increasingly defined by computer hardware and software. They're quickly becoming a consumer's largest electronic mobile device -- a fact not lost on manufacturers who are racing to make over-the-air software updates standard.

By 2022, there will be 203 million vehicles on the road that can receive software over-the-air (SOTA) upgrades; among those vehicles, at least 22 million will also be able to get firmware upgrades, according to a new report by ABI Research.

There will be fewer vehicles capable of wireless firmware updates because the code is more critical to the basic functionality of a computer than application software, and designers therefore make it more difficult to replace or upgrade. Changing application software, however, is a relatively straightforward and similar task, regardless of the platform.

The main reasons automakers are moving quickly to enable OTA upgrades: recall costs, autonomous driving and security risks based on software complexities, according to Susan Beardslee, a senior analyst at ABI Research.

"It is a welcome transformation, as OTA is the only way to accomplish secure management of all of a connected car's software in a seamless, comprehensive, and fully integrated manner," Beardslee said in a statement.

All-electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Motors has been an early leader in OTA updates, as the company began offering them early last year in its Model S sedans. One of the most recent Tesla OTA updates enabled semi-autonomous driving features.

Beyond Tesla, car OEMs will primarily focus the next three to five years on SOTA updates rather than the still-nascent FOTA upgrades.

Increasingly, carmakers are including Wi-Fi routers with greater broadband capabilities  in vehicles for OTA software updates.

"As a manufacturer, you'll have to have it to even be considered by the consumer," Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader for market research firm Gartner, said in an earlier interview.

The OTA market is expected to reach $45 billion by 2022, according to IHS Automotive. The vast majority of it will be related to the money-saving capabilities of OTA, where vehicles won't have to be taken to dealerships for upgrades or software recalls, he said.

"[Carmakers] really cannot build OTA platforms fast enough," said Egil Juliussen, research director at IHS.

Recalls, in particular, are driving the adoption of OTA updates. In the past two years, the vehicle recall rate increased to about 46%, with four major carmakers setting aside a combined $20 billion in 2015 in warranty reserves, according to ABI Research.


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