Tesla has enjoyed a head start in the industry's quest for the holy grail of hardware technology—the ability to upgrade and enhance features wirelessly through over-the-air software changes.
The electric vehicle maker has proved to its competitors that it can be done, and done relatively effortlessly.
As practiced by Tesla, over-the-air updates are done automatically, the same way upgrades arrive on cellphones. Using the technology, auto makers can send vehicle owners improvements for their infotainment systems, safety features and even emissions systems.
But to get there, manufacturers must first create vehicles with electrical architectures that permit connectivity.
Consultancy McKinsey & Co. estimates that about 95 percent of new vehicles sold globally will be connected by 2030. That's up from about half of new vehicles sold today.
The new architectures also will have to come with the necessary computing power to support the changes.
The software upgrades will be a key benefit of this new era of architecture, said Scott Beutler, head of vehicle networking and information at German megasupplier Continental.
"OEMs are continually looking for the capability of increasing or improving features and functionality within vehicles," Beutler told Automotive News. Over-the-air "importance has really grown, and it's driving new architectures within the vehicle."
Years ago, many vehicle functions were mechanical. The advent of electronic steering, braking and powertrain control makes it possible to alter a vehicle's performance through software.
Continental's body high-performance computer is an example of the architecture to come. The system "acts as the master unit for software distribution within the vehicle," Beutler said. "It becomes the central area where downloads of software come in from the cloud services. It could be diagnostics. It could be features and functionality. It could be security enhancements. It could be fleet management on the commercial side.