What if the auto industry’s best solution to the chip shortage was not simply making more chips? Suppose we instead got a handle on what might be called “feature bloat” — the tendency, fueled by sales competition, to slather new cars with as much technology as possible?
Surveys show that consumers want — and expect — that their next car will be laden with whiz-bang features, demand that is a driver for the current bloat. CES 2022, which wrapped this week, provides a glimpse of what the future car might hold. Bosch said to expect double-digit annual growth in automotive software until 2030; Panasonic showed off an augmented reality head-up display with eye tracking, plus the ELS Studio 3D audio system with 1,000 watts and 25 speakers. BMW unveiled future technology that will allow owners to change the exterior color of their cars and display digital art inside them, not to mention a rear 31-inch Theatre Screen with built-in Amazon Fire TV.
And that’s just a tiny sampling of the car tech shown at CES 2022.
But if that tech is unreliable — as some of it has proven — then it’s not a win for consumers. Meanwhile, market reality has resulted in a collision course for buyers on the ground: higher prices and spotty availability of some of the features they say they most want.
“We don’t have a chip shortage; we have software bloat,” said Mike Juran, CEO and co-founder of Altia, which provides graphical user interface design and tools to many automakers. “There is way too much unnecessary software out there.”
Take the Chevrolet Volt. The plug-in hybrid had more than 10 million lines of code when it was introduced for the 2011 model year; today’s mid- to high-level vehicles have something like 100 million lines, said Michael Hill, vice president of engineering at Altia.
“It’s at the level you might have seen in a jet fighter 10 or 15 years ago,” Hill told TechCrunch. “And there is no bug-free software.”
The bad news for consumers: the feature bloat is unavoidable and getting worse.
“Today’s cars are being burdened with features consumers aren’t necessarily asking for or…