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How ‘feature bloat’ is driving the chip shortage – TechCrunch

How ‘feature bloat’ is driving the chip shortage – TechCrunch
Written by Publishing Team

what if The auto industry’s best solution to chip shortages wasn’t just making more chips? Suppose we instead come up with what might be called “feature bloat” — the tendency, fueled by sales competition, to hide new cars as technologically as possible?

Surveys show that consumers want – and expect – their next vehicle to be loaded with amazing features, a requirement that is the engine of the current bulge. CES 2022, which concluded this week, offers a glimpse of what the future car might hold. Bosch said he expects double-digit annual growth in automotive software through 2030; Panasonic showed off an augmented reality display with eye tracking, as well as an ELS Studio 3D sound system with 1,000 watts and 25 speakers. BMW has revealed futuristic technology that will allow owners to change the exterior color of their cars and display digital art inside, not to mention a 31-inch rear theater screen with built-in Amazon Fire TV.

And this is just a small sample of the vehicle technology shown at CES 2022.

But if this technology is unreliable – as some have proven – it is not a win-win for consumers. Meanwhile, the reality of the market has led to a collision course for buyers on the ground: higher prices and spotty availability of some features they say they desperately want.

“We have no shortage of chips; we have software bloat,” said Mike Juran, CEO and co-founder of Altia, which provides design and GUI tools for many automakers. “There is a lot of 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 2011; The mid- to high-end vehicles have nearly 100 million lines, said Michael Hill, vice president of engineering for Altea.

“It’s at a level you might have seen in a fighter plane 10 or 15 years ago,” Hill told TechCrunch. “No software is free from errors.”

Bad news for consumers: Feature bloat is inevitable and getting worse.

“Today’s cars are burdened with features that consumers don’t necessarily want or require,” Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports told TechCrunch.

According to Fisher, CR’s 2021 Vehicle Reliability Report finds that high-end electric SUVs are among the least reliable.

“It’s not because of their powertrain issues,” Fisher said. “Instead, automakers have seen an opening with early EV users packing cars with all the technology they can come up with. They’re trying to differentiate the product – and justify the high cost. This results in very unreliable cars.”

According to Jason Williamson, Altia’s vice president of marketing, buggy software caused by inefficiency and coding issues is driven by a shift — or more accurately, acceleration — in the car’s development cycle.

“People are used to seeing new phones every year, and automakers are trying to keep up with consumer electronics,” Williamson said. “They are pushing to develop completely new cars in two years or less. This means using building blocks that are probably intended for laptops and not necessarily specifically designed for automotive applications.”

It’s not just expensive electric cars that entice consumers with technology; It occurs in many mid- and high-end product lines.

“It’s an advantage over software hotspot,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst for e-mobility at Guidehouse Insights. “The software is just there to make all the features work, and do we really need 30-way power-adjustable seats with five massage style options? Or sequential taillights, automatic multi-zone climate control and sound systems with concert hall and studio settings? An insatiable desire to excel. The competition is what’s driving this.”

The core of the car manufacturers

Automakers who make the All-tech-is-good-tech option avoid the more complicated and ultimately smarter approach.

“The hardest thing is figuring out what the feature set should be and sticking to it,” said Mike Bell, Lucid Group’s Senior Vice President, Digital. It might be easier to say, ‘We’re not sure what we’re doing, so we’re going to throw out the entire kitchen sink. “The smart way is to figure out what customers really want to do, and then figure out how to give them the best experience. There shouldn’t be seven ways to do something.”

Bell spent nearly 17 years at Apple, and hired part of Lucid’s technical team from there. One source of the problems, he said, is that, contrary to tech company standards, automakers contract much of their software to work with suppliers. “You can’t farm it and expect to have a good experience,” he said. “At Lucid, instead of buying from any other category, we do our own software and our own integration.”

Automakers are beginning to recognize the dominance of new technology.

“Launching the car now is not just about the hardware, but the software as well,” said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath. He added in an interview that the ability to make over-the-air updates to this software “makes a huge difference in consumer satisfaction. We can respond quickly to issues that arise.”

great predictions

The main factor here is consumer expectations. It’s true that car buyers don’t need certain features, but they seem to want them. A November study from CoPilot, a data-driven car buying app, suggests that automakers are simply responding to public demand. It found that 65.7% of current leaseholders expect better jobs in their next car or truck, and more than 56% believe they will pay the same or less than they would for their current car.

Similarly, a September CarMax survey of more than 1,000 car owners found that nearly 50% “say they would like their current vehicle to have more technical features.”

Buyers in their 20s and 30s, a highly desirable demographic for automakers, were the most likely to say technical features were “very important” to them when buying. Overall, 15.9% considered the technology package extremely important; 36.7% saw it as very important; And 31.8% were in the “somewhat important” camp. Only 3.9% said it was “not important at all”.

Due to the lack of chips, technical expectations are unlikely to come true.

Pat Ryan, CEO and founder of CoPilot, said in an interview that consumers are likely on a collision course in three areas. “First, it can take three to six months just to get a car, and people aren’t used to that,” Ryan said. “The second problem is that shoppers may find that their new car actually has fewer features than they turn in.

Premium audio, wireless charging, and even heated seats may not be available due to a lack of chips. And people who used to pay maybe 95% of the sticker price might find themselves with the extra stickers.”

But the desire for high-tech cars is unlikely to disappear. Jessica Caldwell, CEO of Insights, Edmunds, tells TechCrunch that automakers are touting their cars and trucks as multi-purpose offices and living spaces on wheels, and buyers appreciate that.

“Consumers are enjoying the growing number of features and amenities, and most importantly, they are willing to pay for these high-content vehicles,” she said. “The lack of chips has made it difficult to produce models with more options and features, but consumer interest remains. As long as there is a desire in the consumer, automakers will find a way to feed it for their profits and market share.”

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