New Standards Aim to Reduce Car Gadget Glitches

Industry groups are launching campaigns to improve the electronic components and software inside automobiles. IBM has joined one such group, and some analysts applaud the move.

Drained batteries. Blown fuses that "freeze" windshield wipers. Fried diagnostic chips. As cars get more computerized, equipment failures are growing. Emerging auto supply chain standards and federal regulations could help, and IBMs recent entrance into the Automotive Open System Architecture, or Autosar, industry group is a step in the right direction, analysts say.

But still, experts arent expecting all those auto equipment glitches to fade away overnight.

"[Global Positioning System devices] are draining car batteries. Trunks are popping open when this isnt part of the plan," said Meg Selfe, IBMs director of Embedded Systems Lifecycle Management.

"You might have up to 70 modules in a car, from different suppliers. Its often difficult to get to the root of whats happening."

In fact, problems with software and silicon account for between 30 and 40 percent of all auto warranty "incidents," according to Kevin Mixer, an analyst who covers auto manufacturing and supply chain issues at AMR Research.

"The cost of bad software and bad hardware is high, and its also driving bigger price tags on [consumer] warranties," Mixer said in an interview with

Car manufacturers can suffer, too. With the advent of in-vehicle computerization, high-end automotive OEMs, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, have lost some brand leadership over faulty parts, according to Mixer.

/zimages/5/28571.gifGeneral Motors is simplifying its software sourcing by reducing its number of contracts and demanding software that costs less to maintain. Click here to read more.

Analysts expect some relief from regulations such as the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act, and from industry organizations such as Autosar and the much longer established AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group).

Launched in July 2003, Autosar is an industry partnership aimed at managing the complexities of electronics and software technology in vehicles. IBM joined the group in November, a month after introducing ESLM, its new set of software tools and services for product lifecycle management.

"IBM is uniquely positioned in Autosar. Were the only major IT vendor among more than 40 companies, most of them traditional [automotive] OEMs," Selfe said.

IBM will collaborate with other members around "architectural, process, and methodology issues," Selfe said. Manufacturers belonging to the group include BMW, Volkswagen, and DaimlerChrysler.

"But IBM will sit at the table with everyone else. Well lead actively on some issues, and well sit passively on others," she said.

Selfe said she wants to see car makers adopt a standards-based auto infrastructure that will let OEMs focus on "innovation and implementation," while reducing development costs through reusable components.

After Autosar completes its standards, all automotive suppliers will need to certify their products against these standards, Selfe said.

Ultimately, Selfe foresees creation of an Autosar "ValueNet" in which "suppliers will work together—across OEM lines—with each other, dealers, and consumers."

Meanwhile, members of the AIAG—an auto supply chain group first formed in 1982—are now collaborating on a project dubbed Inventory Visibility and Interoperability for better inventory control and heightened visibility into the auto supply chain.

Since June 2003, theyve been working toward a day when auto makers and parts suppliers will be able to view the same inventory information, regardless of which software packages generate the data.

Some analysts believe that IBM can make a strong contribution to the Autosar standards group.

"IBM is usually successful with whatever they go into," said Robert LaGuerra, an analyst at ABI Research.

"I think that IBMs participation in Autosar will absolutely help lead to better standardization and control," AMRs Mixer said. "Itll also be interesting to see how efforts such as Autosar feed into the regulatory environment."

Next page: More stringent quality requirements.