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Edmunds: The pros and cons of software running your car

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Edmunds: The pros and cons of software running your car

Software was a big theme for automakers attending CES 2023 in January. BMW, Stellantis, Volkswagen and a joint venture between Honda and Sony showed off upcoming or concept vehicles that are significantly reliant on computers and code. The takeaway was clear: More and more vehicles will be run top to bottom by software, not hardware. In some cases, the future is already here.

What will it be like for shoppers when vehicles are dominated by bits and bytes instead of gears and gaskets? Edmunds’ experts break down what’s in store.

SOFTWARE-DEFINED VEHICLES

The phrase “software-defined vehicle” is an industry term used to clarify the difference between a traditional car that is enhanced by technology and one that is run by technology.

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While cars of the past 20 years have gained touchscreens and have plenty of engines- and safety-related computing power, those software features are largely stuck in time once the car rolls off the assembly line. The future holds that nearly every vehicle feature will be controlled by software, which offers the potential to improve features over time.

Another key difference is updatability. Consider the smartphone. Their manufacturers seamlessly update their software on a regular basis to fix bugs and breaches and add functionality. Software-defined vehicles work similarly. They have high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular connections that automakers use to send out software updates via the cloud to their vehicles. There’s no need for owners to bring their vehicles to a dealership or service centre.

A NEW DAY AND A NEW FEATURE FOR YOUR CAR

Tesla is a pioneer in adding software-based features to its vehicles. Over the years it has introduced improvements to the touchscreen interfaces and added new features such as video games. It’s even issued updates that enhance vehicle performance. Startup EV brands Lucid and Rivian are following suit by employing over-the-air updates to give their vehicles new features and functions and issue bug fixes.

The software also allows for the introduction of features that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury arm, is using facial recognition and fingerprint scanning with its new all-electric GV60 crossover. The physical key is required to set up both functions, but after that, the owner can basically operate the car as easily as a smartphone.

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Established companies are jumping in as well. Last summer, Ford used software to enable its BlueCruise hands-free driving system in tens of thousands of F-150s and Mustang Mach-Es. The vehicles had the hardware for the system already installed; the over-the-air update made it complete. It applied to the cars wirelessly, without the need for a dealer visit.

Maintenance is another potential advantage. These highly digital vehicles can monitor preventive and predictive maintenance and even diagnose problems from afar. It takes the guesswork out of what could go wrong and what needs to be adjusted without a visit to a mechanic shop or dealership.

THE DOWNSIDE OF THIS NEW TECH

Software allows new features that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. But sometimes these features aren’t so great in practice. Tesla and Rivian, for example, use touchscreen-based controls to direct the flow of the cabin’s air vents. It seems neat in theory but turns out to be a finicky and distracting process in real-world driving. Old-school air vents that you adjust by hand just work better.

Software crashes and glitches are also problematic. Issues that PC users are all too familiar with cane crop up in cars. It might be a touchscreen that goes blank and is inoperable while the driving, glitchy operation of certain controls, or advanced driver assist features that aren’t as fully vetted as they should be before being added to vehicles.

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The risks of software crashes and privacy breaches are real issues. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for someone with malicious intentions to take over the operation of a car and cause damage. Also, some experts are both applauding the technology and advising caution as it relates to personal data privacy: the more data collected from drivers, the more potential for hacking.

EDMUNDS SAYS:

The software will continue to evolve to change the vehicle ownership experience. Test-driving different new vehicles offer a sense of how much digital functionality you prefer. You might enjoy the opportunity for a quick fix or update via Wi-Fi. But technology-averse shoppers will likely prefer a vehicle with a more traditional design, which might include buying used.

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Panasonic cuts full-year outlook as costly raw materials weigh

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Panasonic cuts full-year outlook as costly raw materials weigh

Japan’s Panasonic Holdings Corp (6752.T) cut its annual operating profit forecast by 12.5% on Thursday after lower-than-expected third-quarter earnings, hit by headwinds from a slowing global economy and persistently high raw materials prices.

The company faces challenges amid a tricky outlook for global growth, as it looks to further build out its energy business, which includes making auto batteries for electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O).

The conglomerate slashed its operating profit forecast to 280 billion yen ($2.18 billion) for the financial year to Mar. 31, from 320 billion yen, in part due to a less rosy outlook for its industry segment this quarter.

It expects to invest up to about 600 billion yen in the three years through March 2025 in a new battery plant it started building in Kansas last year, Group Chief Financial Officer Hirokazu Umeda told an online earnings presentation.

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Panasonic said in presentation materials it will aim to grow profits in automotive batteries by expanding sales of its 2170 model lithium-ion battery cells and commercialising the more advanced 4680 format battery.

The company’s energy unit last month signed an agreement with Lucid Group Inc (LCID.O) to supply lithium-ion batteries for the EV maker’s full lineup, including its “Air” luxury model.

The company also said it aimed to begin supplying the 4680 format battery to the North American market in the financial year through March 2024 to commercialise this model of battery cells.

Panasonic’s third-quarter result, with its operating profit rising 16% to 84.4 billion yen in the three months ended Dec. 31, fell short of a mean estimate of 95.31 billion yen profit from nine analysts.

Jefferies analysts said in a note before the earnings release that the company’s overly diverse business portfolio lacked focus and was centred on low-margin, cyclical businesses.

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Most investors were focused on more clarity and details about U.S. Inflation Reduction Act benefits for Panasonic’s EV battery cell production, such as the size and sustainability of subsidies, the analysts added.

The energy business’ operating profit fell nearly half to 28.9 billion yen for the nine months through the end of December, hit mainly by high prices for raw materials and transport, despite a 25% rise in sales over the period.

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Japanese chip venture Rapidus needs $54bn to begin production, says chairman

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Japanese chip venture Rapidus needs $54bn to begin production, says chairman

Japan’s state-backed chip venture Rapidus will need about 7 trillion yen ($54 billion) of mostly taxpayer money to begin mass producing advanced logic chips in around 2027, its chairman, Tetsuro Higashi, told Reuters on Thursday.

That plan may be Japan’s last best chance to revive its ageing semiconductor industry as Japan and the United States set aside old industrial rivalries to take on China amid growing geopolitical tension.

“In the past, the United States hindered Japan’s chip industry growth. Now we have America’s support,” Higashi said in an interview.

Japan and the United States worry that friction with China will result in semiconductor shortages that could threaten economic growth.

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That concern has escalated as China has increased pressure on global chip hub Taiwan, with nearby military exercises after Chinese anger over visits by U.S. politicians to the self-ruled island.

TWO NANOMETRES

Following an agreement by Japan and the United States to cooperate in semiconductor technology, Rapidus in December announced a tie-up with IBM Corp (IBM.N) to develop and produce two-nanometre chips.

A nanometer is one-billionth of a metre and the smaller the number, the more cutting-edge the chip is. Japan’s most advanced semiconductor factory is a 40-nanometre plant owned by Renesas Electronics (6723.T).

Rapidus will announce the location of its first factory in March, Higashi said.

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The former boss of chip machinery maker Tokyo Electron (8035.T) declined to say where, but said it would not be near the site on Kyushu island that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd (TSMC) (2330.TW) recently picked for its first Japan factory.

To pay for the factory and buy production equipment, Rapidus will need sustained investment from Japan’s government, which in December announced 70 billion yen ($544 million) of initial funding.

Eight corporations that have small stakes in Rapidus, including Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Sony Group Corp (6758.T), are unlikely to stump up any money soon, Higashi said.

“They are future customers. For them, the decision to invest will be taken when they are able to assess our technology and production plans.”

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Xiaomi demands payout from supplier after car designs leaked

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Xiaomi demands payout from supplier after car designs leaked

China’s Xiaomi <1810.HK) said on Thursday it had imposed a 1 million Yuan ($149,000) penalty on a supplier after it leaked early design drafts of an upcoming car model.

On its official Weibo page, a spokesperson wrote Xiaomi had “dealt seriously” with a Beijing-based moulding technology company which on Jan. 22 publicly revealed images of an upcoming car’s front and rear bumpers, violating a confidentiality agreement.
Xiaomi did not disclose the name of the company and Reuters could not identify it.

As punishment, the smartphone-turned-car maker said it would impose “economic compensation” of 1 million Yuan ($148,763) on the supplier.

The spokesperson added it had instructed the supplier to strengthen its information security management and develop plans to upgrade its confidentiality measures.

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Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun also circulated the note on his personal Weibo page.

Over the Chinese New Year, images purportedly showing mock-ups of the front and rear of Xiaomi’s upcoming electric vehicle (EV) spread on social media, as well as a full view of what appeared to be a white compact sedan, with a license plate that read “MS11”.

The leaks would mark the first confirmed images of Xiaomi’s long-awaited automobile.

However, News portal Sina Tech reported on Thursday that Wang Hua, general manager of Xiaomi’s public relations department, said the leaked designs were part of a bidding process and were not final renderings.

In March 2021 Xiaomi, a hardware company best known for its smartphones said it would enter the automotive sector, aiming to invest $10 billion in the project over ten years.

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Since then, the company has committed to opening a plant in Beijing that could produce 300,000 vehicles per year.

The company has said it hopes to reach mass production of its cars in the first half of 2024.

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