The Transition To Electric Vehicles Is Plagued By Software Issues

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My brother and his wife took the plunge and bought a non-Detroit Three vehicle this year: a Volvo XC60. They were so excited, until the car turned itself off at a stop light. The screen went blank, cars around them started impatiently beeping, and their elderly passenger became frenzied. After turning the car off and on again, they forced whatever software issues had caused the malfunction to reset, and their journey continued, albeit nervously.

And then it happened again. And again.

The dealership customer service rep listened to their story disinterestedly, sizing up my brother and his wife as Luddites. It took several more similar software issues and self-advocacy visits to the dealership to resolve the problem with corporate-level system rebooting.

Thousands of new car owners are similarly haunted by software issues; some are joining class-action lawsuits that accuse automakers of selling vehicles with faulty electronic systems. Plaintiffs describe malfunctioning dashboard displays as a serious distraction and potential safety hazard. Many courts agree.

A new twist makes software issues even more profound. Automakers find themselves in the tenuous place where they must commit to phasing out their internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicles to meet global climate pollution targets. They have little choice: they must adhere to stringent CO2 and criteria emission regulations. At the same time, however, they’re embracing automation and infotainment development to meet customer expectations regarding performance, comfort, and utility. As automakers attempt to convert at least some of their fleets to electric vehicles (EVs), the industry’s reliance on dozens of concealed computers embedded throughout their vehicles is halting a successful transition.

Software issues are proving to be major obstacles to the transition to transportation electrification.

Software Issues Complicated by Proprietary Concerns

Hundreds of millions of lines of new code are being written, checked, debugged, and secured against hackers as vehicles are being converted to supercomputers on wheels. All these lines of code run every time a driver makes a trip to work and back.

Vard Antinyan, a software quality expert at Volvo Cars, toldMotorTrend in 2020:

“Volvo has a superset of about 120 ECUs from which it selects to create a system architecture present within every Volvo vehicle. Altogether, they comprise a total of 100 million lines of source code… (which) contains 10 million conditional statements as well as 3 million functions, which are invoked some 30 million places in the source code.”

Fast forward to 2023, and automakers are immersed in another dilemma: they’ve figured out that no longer will traditional hardware solidify their place in stiff automotive competition. The automotive future is all about the software. As a result, automakers have been negotiating with Big Tech companies over control of automation, yet Big Tech figured out a lot earlier that they had the finger on the pulse of transportation electrification and are reluctant to release their powerful hold on the automotive industry.

Automakers have stood their proverbial ground, Forbesoutlines, realizing how essential it is for them to own and control software to power and direct their products and systems, to interact with the vehicle, to customize their experience, even to conduct e-commerce and Zoom meetings while onboard. General Motors has stated it will replace infotainment systems from Apple and Google with GM-specific software for some of its new models, and the company hired a former Apple executive to lead a newly formed software unit.

A Case Study: The Chevy Blazer EV

Was it really just last year that the all-new Chevrolet Blazer EV topped a field of 40 competitors to win MotorTrend’s prestigious “Golden Calipers” for 2024 SUV of the Year? Oh, how times change. GM noted then that the title “SUV of the Year” is one MotorTrend has reserved for only vehicles with the utmost product excellence in the past 25 years.

The Chevy Blazer EV had been touted as Chevy’s new entry-level electric vehicle — at least until the Equinox EV and the rebooted Bolt move to the marketplace. Alas, the folks at Edmund’s were testing their new Chevy Blazer EV, and they experienced 23 different issues that needed fixing — primarily infotainment and charging glitches.

Soon afterward, GM issued a statement announcing that Blazer EV sales would be stopped for the time being.

“To ensure our customers have a great experience with their vehicle, we are temporarily pausing sales of Blazer EVs. Our team is working quickly to roll out a fix, and owners will be contacted with further information on how to schedule their update. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

GM’s Blazer EV sales have neared 10,000 units since its release to the public in 2022. Not all Blazer EVs experience software issues, but there are enough to make the company and the NHTSA take notice. The stop-sale on the 2024 Blazer EV for software issues pertains to “a limited number” of units. GM added that issues are not safety or Ultium propulsion system related.

Inside EVswrote that emails they received from Blazer EV early adopters contained “a tone of frustration, as many of the afflicted owners have said that they don’t feel that the service departments truly know what is wrong with their vehicles, or how to fix them.”

To add insult to injury, GM said last week it expects the Blazer EV to temporarily become ineligible for a US electric vehicle tax credit starting January 1, 2024.

Many EV Automakers are Experiencing Software Issues

The first production Volkswagen ID.3 cars were stockpiled in lots all around Germany, where they sat waiting for Cariad to fix the glitches in the software before deliveries to customers began. Even after all that, early customers of the ID.3 complained long and loud about buggy software that didn’t operate properly or was slow to perform requested tasks. Software E3 2.0, which was originally intended for all models of the VW, Seat, Cupra, and Skoda brands beginning in 2025 and all Volkswagen Group vehicles thereafter, is being completely redeveloped. The SSP vehicle platform is being “largely rethought” once again. The previous development costs of around €1.5 billion will thus be completely lost.

Unlike Tesla owners, Blazer EV owners will be asked to bring their cars into a dealership for the update.  When Tesla recalled more than 120,000 vehicles in 2023 over software issues that may cause unlocked doors to open during a crash, it sent an over-the-air update. It did the same on December 13 for its Autopilot feature. The argument has always been that Autopilot was too lax because it allowed people to use it in situations it was never intended for. Presumably, the over-the-air update will address most of those situations. Tesla says the recall action should be completed for all affected cars by February 10, 2024.

The Fisker Ocean, a new electric SUV, is stylish and spacious with long range and impressive performance. However, complaints about the car’s software describe it as buggy and slow, and though there are many things to like about the EV, the software issues are a major concern, and it’s unclear when they will be fixed.

Tthe quality of new vehicles sold in the US is declining as factors such as growing use of technology and lower build quality of certain parts are making the models more problematic. In fact, the wide range of quality problems in the automotive industry is “a phenomenon not seen in the 37-year history of the Initial Quality Study,” JD Power’s senior director of auto benchmarking Frank Hanley toldReuters.

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