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 eWEEK.com
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.
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.”
Emerging regulations should also boost auto performance by imposing more stringent quality requirements, according to some analysts. In a recent report on the North American passenger car market, Frost & Sullivan mentions U.S. regulatory activity around safety airbags, emission standards and low fuel consumption, as well as the TREAD Act. TREAD mandates new systems for tire pressure monitoring as a way of averting accidents caused by tires that are either overinflated or underinflated.
In another study, the U.K.-based Datamonitor research group discusses laws elsewhere in the world, such as the European Unions End of Life Vehicle Directive. Compliance efforts have spawned IMDS (International Materials Data System), a new system for logging and distributing data about the physical and chemical composition of auto parts.
On the other hand, regulatory compliance can be time consuming and expensive for OEMs and parts suppliers, some analysts say.
In a report called “TREAD: A Multibillion Dollar Black Hole,” Mixer and two colleagues at AMR gauged the cost of TREAD at $2 billion in its first year, or 50 times higher than U.S. government estimates.
Beyond the costs of compliance, analysts note lingering barriers to car performance that include product differentiation needs, legal and cultural differences between countries, technology integration, and simply “too many components.”
Viday Javakrishnan, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, pointed to the conflicts confronting semiconductor manufacturers, who still need to differentiate their products, but who are now expected by customers to offer features supporting integration.
In Europe, IMDS “has encountered interoperability problems that will need to be resolved to aid the recycling demanded by the legislation,” Datamonitors study said.
“How are you ever going to tie together all the systems and components from all those suppliers?” ABIs LaGuerra said.
“Standards will help. But its going to be a daunting task to create standards that will work across all the various countries and regulatory environments.”
He said emissions requirements and taxes on vehicles with poor fuel economies will lead to a quick surge from todays 8-bit engine management systems to 32-bit systems.
By 2010, autos in emerging countries will be using 16-bit processors, but most vehicles in the United States will have already stepped to 32-bit systems, he predicted.
Adding too many components can actually reduce reliability, so the auto industry will try to simplify matters by using fewer but more powerful processors, the analyst said.
Other new computerized car features now in various stages of adoption include anti-lock braking systems, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning systems.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news and analysis of enterprise supply chains.