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Volkswagen Deep in Hot Water Over Software Woes, Key Flagship Models Delayed for Years

Everyone boasts of surpassing Tesla these days, but a story that went under the radar shows that big car companies face insurmountable problems catching up. Volkswagen Group had to delay the launch of crucial electric models at Audi, Porsche, and Bentley because software subsidiary Cariad was unable to complete the software.
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As software gets more prominence in the automotive industry, legacy carmakers find themselves unfit to compete in an industry increasingly dominated by Silicon Valley tech companies. This was exacerbated by the rapid switch to electrification, as cars essentially became computers on wheels rather than machines with a brain.

New contenders in the auto industry like Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, and others all have a software-centric approach to building cars. In the meantime, traditional carmakers have yet to grasp the revelation that the hardware means nothing without the underlying software. At the Volkswagen Group, this revelation means delaying new key EV models by at least three years because of problems at the company’s software arm Cariad.

According to an Automobilwoche report, Audi’s new flagship, developed under the Artemis project, will not launch until at least 2027. The Artemis project was supposed to launch in 2024 with the new 2.0 software generation capable of hands-off Level 4 autonomous driving. But because Cariad is far behind in developing automated driving software for the car, the whole project is now in jeopardy.

The first production Artemis car, internally called Landjet, will now launch after Volkswagen’s Trinity flagship sedan, which is scheduled for 2026. This means late 2026 but more likely in 2027, according to sources. This has led Audi to rethink its strategy and come up with a plan to build a slimmed-down electric flagship, codenamed Landyacht, from 2025. This would lack advanced autonomous driving technology and instead will be powered by a souped-up 1.2 version of the current software. Even this one is way behind schedule, as it was expected to launch in 2021 to power the current EV crop.

Not only the future flagships are impacted. Audi Q6 e-tron and its sister Porsche Macan EV are also threatened by delays. As for Bentley’s plan to sell only battery-powered cars by 2030, everybody is skeptical. Audi is ready with the pre-series production of the Q6 e-tron but will have to postpone the series production until September 2023. Porsche is even further ahead with the Macan EV production. “The hardware is great,” a Porsche source told Automobilwoche, according to Automotive News. “But the software is still missing.” You can read the frustration between the lines.

In January, Volkswagen announced a surprising partnership with Bosch to develop software for advanced driving assistance functions. This was seen as a strategic retreat after Volkswagen bosses established Cariad to create their own self-driving software. The partnership with Bosch is not supposed to go beyond Leve 3 automation. However, it might help Cariad get on track with development. Volkswagen Group’s supervisory board demanded a reworked plan for Cariad in May. However, it is still a long way to go.

Volkswagen struggles underline just how hard it is to get to Tesla’s level, software-wise. You can always build more cars and make them look better and drive faster, but this is only a fraction of what’s expected today from a car. Software is way more complicated, and hiring more software developers will not accelerate development like hiring more production line workers does.

Going deep into artificial intelligence and machine learning is something that big carmakers are not prepared to do today and might be too late tomorrow. Ten years from now, the automotive landscape will be unrecognizable, as many names we take for granted today are poised to join Kodak and Nokia into irrelevance.

 
 
 
 
 

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