How ‘feature bloat’ is driving the chip shortage

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what would happen if Wasn’t the auto industry’s best solution to chip shortages simply making more chips? Guess we might instead have what’s called “feature bloat”—a trend driven by sales competition, the tendency to throw new cars with as much tech in them as possible?

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Surveys show that consumers want — and expect — that their next car will be laden with fast-paced features, demand that is a driver for current bloat. CES 2022, which ended this week, offers a glimpse of what the car of the future could hold. Bosch expects double-digit annual growth in automotive software by 2030; Panasonic also showed off an augmented reality heads-up display with eye tracking, as well as an ELS Studio 3D audio system with 1,000 watts and 25 speakers. BMW unveiled futuristic 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 theater screen with built-in Amazon Fire TV for.

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


But if that technology is unreliable — as some of it has proven — then it’s not a win-win for consumers. Meanwhile, the reality of the market has created a confrontational situation for buyers on the ground: high prices and spotty availability of some of the features they say they want the most.

“We have no shortage of chips; We have software bloat,” said Mike Juran, CEO and co-founder of Altea, which provides graphical user interface design and tools to many automakers. “There’s a lot of redundant software out there.”

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Take Chevrolet Volt. The plug-in hybrid had over 10 million lines of code when it was introduced for the 2011 model year; Today there are 100 million lines in mid- to high-end vehicles, said Michael Hill, vice president of engineering at Altea.

“It’s on the level you would have seen in a jet fighter 10 or 15 years ago,” Hill told Nerdshala. “And there is no bug-free software.”

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

“Today’s cars are being burdened with features that consumers aren’t necessarily asking for or asking for,” Jake Fischer, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, told Nerdshala.

According to Fisher, CR’s 2021 Auto Reliability Report found that high-end electric SUVs are among the less-reliable vehicles.

“And it’s not because their powertrains are problematic,” Fischer said. “Instead, automakers saw an opening with early EV adopters to package cars with all the technology they could come up with. They’re trying to differentiate the product — and the high cost. Justifies. And it results in cars that aren’t very reliable.”

According to Jason Williamson, vice president of marketing at Altea, buggy software caused by inefficiencies and coding problems is being driven by a change – or more precisely, an acceleration – in the vehicle 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. And that means using building blocks that are probably intended for laptops and not necessarily custom-made for automotive applications. be built.”

It’s not only expensive EVs that are wooing consumers with technology; This is happening across many mid- and high-end product ranges.

“It’s more feature bloat than software bloat,” said Sam Abuelsamid, lead 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-pattern options? Or sequential taillights, multi-zone automatic climate control and concert hall and studio settings.” With the audio system? The insatiable desire to one-up the competition is what is driving it.”

Crux for automakers

Automakers who take the all-takes-is-good-takes option tend to avoid the trickier, yet ultimately smarter approach.

“The hardest thing is figuring out what the feature set should be and stick to,” said Mike Bell, senior vice president of digital at Lucid Group. “It can be easy to say, ‘We’re not sure what we’re doing, so we’re going to throw the whole kitchen in the sink.’ The smart way is to decide what customers really want to do, 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 recruited part of its Lucid tech team from there. One source of problems, he said, is that, contrary to the tech company’s norms, automakers contract out most of their software suppliers. “You can’t farm it and expect a good experience,” he said. “At Lucid, instead of buying from Tier Whites, we do our own software and our own integrations.”

Automakers are beginning to accept the new technological dominance.

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

high hopes

A major factor here is consumer expectations. It’s true that auto buyers don’t need certain features, but they want them. November 1 Study from CoPilot, The data-driven car-buying app suggests that automakers are simply responding to public demand. It found that 65.7% of existing lease holders expect improved feature functionality in their next car or truck, and a little over 56% think they will pay as much or less for their current vehicle.

Similarly, a September carmax survey More than 1,000 car owners found that almost 50% “said they wish their current car had more technical features.”

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

The technical requirements are unlikely to be met given the lack of chips.

CoPilot CEO and founder Pat Ryan said in an interview that there are three areas where consumers are likely to clash. “At first, it can take three to six months to get a car, and people are not used to it,” Ryan said. “The second issue is that buyers may find that their new car actually has fewer features than the one they are replacing.

Premium sound, wireless charging, even heated seats may not be available due to the lack of a chip. And people used to pay maybe 95% of the sticker price, might find themselves impressed with StickerPlus.”

But the desire for high-tech cars is unlikely to end. Jessica Caldwell, executive director of Insights at Edmonds, told Nerdshala that automakers are touting their cars and trucks as multi-purpose offices and places to live on wheels, and buyers are appreciating.

“Consumers are enjoying an increasing number of features and amenities, and most importantly, are willing to pay for these highly satisfied vehicles,” she said. “Chip shortages have made it challenging to produce models with more options and features, but consumer interest still remains. And as long as there is consumer appetite, automakers will find a way to feed it for their own profits and market share. ,

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