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Automakers turn to twin-track product cycle to keep up with technology

Automakers turn to twin-track product cycle to keep up with technology

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It has been obvious for a while now that automakers are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. While they concentrate on adding more and more technology to their vehicles, they have to fight to stay current.

What was new tech one year is already old the next, in some cases sooner than that. The challenge is to make development manageable and cost effective while still being able to utilize the technological innovations that are constantly developing. That’s where the twin-track product cycle comes in. While at the Geneva Motor Show, senior industry executives were mooting it as the way to go in order to stay up to date.

The current auto development schedule is around seven years. That’s from design to release and doesn’t include mid-cycle refresh. Compare that to smartphones, which is around a year and you can quickly see a disconnect between the two, especially as automakers want to shoehorn in as much smartphone technology as they can.

Automakers see no feasible way to shorten the development cycle without cutting corners or raising costs to an unsustainable level. Therefore, they have to come up with another way to keep up with changes in technology while also maintaining quality and value.

Rather than making cars completely modular so they can be incrementally updated, automakers are considering a twin-track product cycle to stay current.

The twin-track product cycle
With the average auto lease around 36 months, automakers have to be quick to market to keep the wheels turning. The twin-track product cycle separates hardware and software within the car. So the mechanicals such as engine, transmission and everything else will maintain the six or seven year lifecycle. Software such as ECU, infotainment and all the other little bits that keep a modern car safe on the road will take a separate track.

This is the side of things that can be configured to keep up more. Then, OTA updates or service updates can install the latest software versions just like a computer or smartphone. That way, new features can be enabled by software only while refinements in reliability and speed of the code can be quickly rolled out to existing owners.

This approach has obvious limitations but will help automakers fix problems on the fly and offer updates without big, expensive changes. Manufacturers also factor in processor and memory capabilities when planning their products so faster technology can be quickly introduced during a midcycle refresh.

This twin-track product cycle was inevitable but is a welcome direction and should benefit all of us as car owners. As soon as new code is released, it can be downloaded into our car and we get those benefits right away. It’s a good move.

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