Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

BMW's Grote Wants to be First, Not Last

by Roger Lanctot | 9月 24, 2021

A must-see session at the recent IAA Mobility event held in Munich a couple weeks ago was “What the Future Holds for Automotive Software” which featured a pas de deux between Christoph Grote, BMW Senior Vice President of Electronics, and Patrick Brady, Vice President of Engineering, Android, at Google. Brady shared a history of Android’s introduction to the automotive industry and his vision of future industry engagement. Grote described BMW’s evolving history of in-vehicle software deployment and management and his vision.

The pairing was novel because BMW has notoriously and meticulously sought to preserve its independence from any particular supplier or solution.  In that regard, it was BMW that sought independence from QNX – now owned by Blackberry – via the creation, with the help of Intel, of the Linux-centric GenIVI Alliance.

GenIVI has pursued the creation of a multi-year, multi-supplier, multi-solution infrastructure for application development using Linux. The organization ultimately merged its efforts with yet another automotive Linux initiative – Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) – led by Toyota.

BMW was the flag bearer for automotive Linux for more than a decade. (GenIVI was originally founded in 2009 with BMW Group, Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Magneti-Marelli, PSA Peugeot Citroen (Stellantis), Visteon, and Wind River Systems.) BMW also was among the first companies to deploy GenIVI-sourced code.

At the IAA Mobility event, Grote was singing a new tune. While he defiantly asserted BMW’s enduring independence, it was clear from his comments and his interaction with Brady of Google that BMW has a new attitude toward Android.

Three quotes stood out among many notable comments. The first was Grote’s statement that “If you want to craft a superb user interface, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

This sentiment makes a great deal of sense and reflects the reality that car makers are individually responsible for delivering a safe and pleasing user experience in the car. As Grote commented later: “Our cars hug the road and fit the user like a glove, physically and mentally.”

Google is surely interested in enveloping BMW drivers and passengers in a similarly intimate manner. Grote’s vision, though, allows BMW and its platform architecture to introduce elements of Google’s platform and its Android operating system without surrendering control of the in-cabin experience.

Grote went even further. He described BMW’s relationship with Google as a partnership focused on innovation, solving problems, and creating new and novel experiences. He said that the “co-development of really new stuff” is what’s “glued us together.”

To top it off, Grote added: “We have never haggled about exclusivity.”

What does this all mean? In summary, in Grote’s words: “We like to do things first. We don’t like to do them last.” In other words, BMW is perfectly comfortable leading the way and sharing its vision with the industry.

These sentiments are notable because they echo those of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. Musk has offered to share various elements of his EV platform with other auto makers. Musk, though, takes a dimmer view of Google and is even more determined to preserve Tesla's independence.

Musk has famously parted company with Mobileye and Nvidia in bitter fashion revealed in ample press coverage. Tesla is also something of a Linux devotee and has yet to endorse or adopt Android’s AOSP.

Grote announced the arrival of BMW Operating System 8 at IAA Mobility, but it was not clear whether he was referring to the IVI OS or the new iDrive 8 hardware controller system (the knob mounted in the center console that allows the driver to control in-vehicle systems).

Google’s Android-based success in the automotive industry has relevance and implications for other suppliers – particularly tech companies. Apple, for one, has failed to establish warm relations with auto makers and their suppliers – choosing instead to enforce its priorities and preferences in the face of resistance.

Apple’s my-way-or-the-highway approach contrasts not only with Google, but also with Amazon. Amazon has built a massive portfolio of cloud customers for AWS in the automotive industry, including BMW, while notching a steady stream of in-vehicle integrations of Alexa – including the latest with GM’s OnStar application.

Google’s path to success appears to be one worthy of emulation. The fact that the company was able to successfully defrost BMW while helping auto makers around the world deliver more than 100M cars equipped with Android Auto smartphone mirroring speaks volumes.

The engagement with BMW marks the pinnacle of industry integration and innovation with a successful courting of one of the most Android-resistant organizations around. Just as the BMW-Google model is a guide to other tech companies entering the automotive industry, it is a playbook for competing auto makers to do business with Google.  Nobody wants to be last. Everyone wants to be BMW.

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