Jaguar Land Rover, Nvidia tie-up signals software wars are truly on

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Automobile automation (Representative image. Source: ShutterStock)

Indian-owned British luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has finally decided to knock on the doors of Silicon Valley for an early-mover advantage in the escalating software wars that will determine the future of carmakers.

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JLR, owned by Tata Motors, has signed a multi-year partnership with artificial intelligence (AI) company Nvidia Corp to create software for its sports utility vehicles that will be launched from 2025. While the financial terms of the deal have not been shared, Nvidia has come on board to create in-vehicle software for Jaguar and Land Rover cars. 

“Next-generation cars will transform automotive into one of the largest and most advanced technology industries. Fleets of software-defined, programmable cars will offer new functionalities and services for the life of the vehicle,” Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang said. 

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Gearing up for the future 

Jaguar Land Rover is one of the many legacy carmakers leaning heavily on Silicon Valley to equip them with top-of-the-line autonomous software featuring self-driving and self-parking with an upgradable software ecosystem. 

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Software is increasingly being seen as critical for carmakers’ survival. Jaguar claims that Nvidia will help provide simulations, which JLR will use to train its autonomous driving cars. 

Though autonomous vehicles remain a legally grey area, with many advocating against giving a car the power to choose an individual’s safety at the cost of another, carmakers are diving headfirst into AI and software supremacy, given that EV powertrains are likely to blur the differences in performance. 

During the production of its I-Pace electric SUV, Jaguar teamed up with the Alphabet Inc-owned Waymo. Despite the success of the I-Pace, JLR faced multiple setbacks in the last few years due to poor performance in key markets like China and Europe. 

Add to that the semiconductor shortage and things do indeed start to look bleak for the Tata Group-owned carmaker. 

Big tech in driving seat

Big Tech and its promise of an autonomous future have had a vice-like grip over the automotive world for a few years now. 

It’s not just autonomous driving. The sheer amount of data and the wide variety of software solutions that Big Tech offers can bring major disruption in a space that is likely to be homogenised due to EV powertrains. 

For carmakers, delving into the internet of things (IoT) space requires the sort of know-how they don’t possess. For Big Tech, it just requires scaling up their tech to fit the automotive mold, while also working on their indigenous automotive platforms. 

The global autonomous car market is expected to grow to $11.03 billion by 2028. Alexa and Siri already have a ubiquitous presence in the cars. The future of cars will in a large part be determined by the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple. 

Certain features like an emergency call have been mandated by the European Union as standard fitments in cars since 2018. 

The war of operating systems 

Experts believe that once 5G becomes the norm, it would lead to a leap in connected car tech. 

Google, whose Android Auto smartphone mirroring feature can be found in most modern cars, is now moving ahead with its Android Automotive operating system (OS). 

Brands like General Motors (GM) have been using Google OS since 2021, where all the services of the tech giant can be found in the car without the need for a smartphone. 

GM, however, has also poured in $35 billion in its indigenous OS called Ultifi, which once developed will work alongside Android Automotive OS to provide end-to-end software solutions. 

“Android Automotive is a certain subset of functionality in the car, Ultifi is more of an umbrella overall strategy,” Scott Miller, GM’s VP of software-defined vehicles, told TechCrunch.

Volvo Cars also announced that Android Automotive OS would be the basis for its in-car infotainment. According to TechCrunch, Google’s OS is coming to Honda cars as well. 

Few carmakers can afford to miss the AI train, though Google’s involvement would give them lesser control over the vehicle’s software capabilities, which, in turn, dilutes their brand. 

Big Tech vs Auto Giants 

Automotive giants like the Daimler and the Volkswagen Group, both German companies, do not intend to let Big Tech have the last word. 

In 2020, Volkswagen announced its operating system and software platform Car.Software. A bold move, considering how far software development is from the brand’s core competencies. 

For VW, it’s the sheer size of the company, the world’s second-largest carmaker after the Japanese firm Toyota, which makes it advantageous to develop its software platform. 

Car.Software.Org employs 5,000 people, with plans to manufacture its high-performance computers and chipsets, taking full control of its performance for the future.

Toyota is also opting to develop its software rather than rely on tech companies. In January 2022, the Tokyo-headquartered company said it would have its automotive software ready by 2025. 

Software that handles everything—from basic functions to advanced autonomous driving. The software, which is called Arene, will be available to other Japanese carmakers such as Subaru (20 percent of whose shares are owned by Toyota). 

After a century of focusing on mechanical development, automakers find themselves in uncharted waters. Those without the financial might of the likes of the VW Group prefer to liaise with tech firms, while luxury giants such as BMW have decided to focus on core competencies, partnering with Microsoft for IoT solutions.  

Everything—infotainment, insurance, rental services to diagnostics—can be simplified through IoT-based services. However, luxury carmakers like JLR and BMW risk becoming too dependent on software-based solutions which are already proving to be disruptors in the luxury segment, thanks to Elon Musk-owned Tesla. 

The tech wars have effectively boiled down to three different approaches. Volume players like GM and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi are hedging their bets by co-operating with Big Tech and letting the likes of Google and Amazon do the heavy lifting. 

For giants like VW and Toyota, going it alone appears to be the way forward, with both brands hoping to neutralise the six-year edge that Tesla has over them. 

And, then there’s the third approach: COVESA, the Connected Vehicles System Alliance It’s a joint effort by the automobile industry to have a scalable, open-source operating system to keep the Big Tech away. 

The alliance may be in its infancy but big players like the BMW Group, Hyundai, Bosch, Honda and Daimler AG have come together to provide solutions. 

In the interim, several of these brands have tied up with tech companies, unwilling to lose out but in the long run, carmakers intend to stick together. 

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