Many, if not most, of the features consumers want are electronic in nature: infotainment, ADAS, and even air conditioning interface with an ECU running embedded software. With a greater number of more sophisticated electronics, the typical automotive supplier pipeline is much broader and deeper than before. Longer and larger supplier pipelines can greatly increase the time required to cascade and implement design changes. Ensuring that all teams understand the change being implemented and its effects on their domain is already a key challenge. Contracting with additional suppliers and expanding the supplier ecosystem to provide desirable features only compounds this problem.
Reducing the change implementation cycle enables OEMs to bring new vehicles to market more quickly, a key competitive advantage for companies operating in a very contentious market. Some manufacturers are attempting to shorten development cycles by bringing domains in-house that have been largely supplier-based. General Motors added almost ten-thousand information technology employees in a massive effort to bring IT services back under their control after years of outsourcing (Automotive News, 2017).
Next, the average new car today contains between 70-100 ECUs. In future vehicles, OEMs will consolidate these into fewer more powerful control units. How far this consolidation should go; however, is a point of major debate. Some advocate for a centralized architecture with a few, or a singular, very powerful ECU(s) managing vehicle functions. Others consider a distributed architecture with a greater number of ECUs a better option, primarily to create redundancy in vehicle systems.
OEMs may also investigate component consolidation as a cost-saving strategy. By fusing sensors, actuators, and other components together, OEMs can achieve the same functionality for reduced cost. On the other hand, OEMs may want to maintain independent components to preserve system redundancy.
Moreover, OEMs will look to limit investments to save on cost, but increasing architectural complexity and more stringent safety requirements increase the challenge of vehicle design. This increased challenge equates to greater cost, as investment is necessary to deliver the sophisticated vehicles demanded by the market.
The road forward for automotive OEMs and their suppliers remains lengthy and confusing. While full vehicle autonomy is a popular topic, highly impactful technologies will reach maturity long before true self-driving is achieved. These new technologies will further increase the demands for capability and reliability from the E/E architecture.