The FT’s Future of the Car summit has become an annual moment for leaders across the automotive industry to come together and show what they’ve got on offer – both in the near and the not-so-distant future.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend a number of sessions during the FT’s Future of the Car Summit this year, and was inspired by what is to come for our industry; not just through vehicle innovation, but also for what is to come for the customer in making their individual car experience more connected, personalised, and more about creating an experience.

Here, I will report on what has been said about the future of Over the Air updates (OTAs) and the importance of this technology for the automotive industry. I am going to massively simplify this (much to the dismay of my engineer friends) and say that OTAs are just like phone or computer updates. In-vehicle, they are most commonly applied to two major types of systems – drive control and infotainment. You get some that just work in the background and those that you have to do a full reboot. This means you can fix bugs or even set up a car completely differently – imagine setting your car up for a track day all while it is sat on your drive – without having to visit a dealership.

OTAs used to be purely about bug fixes and problem-solving. However, manufacturers’ perspectives and use of them have hugely evolved. Companies can now use OTAs to keep their vehicles ‘as new’ (so they don’t depreciate as soon as they leave a dealership, for example) and offer new and exciting services. So, what does this mean and what are the opportunities?

New Talent
To help cope with this manufacturers are having to upskill or re-shape their workforces – JLR for example has hired 2,500 software engineers to help build these experiences. This creates both a challenge and opportunity. The challenge is there are only so many software engineers (who are therefore highly sought after) and the opportunity is to shape a workforce for the future.

Creating Ongoing Touchpoints
Brands have the opportunity to use this new platform as a way of bringing people back to the brand or keeping connected with them. In years gone by the consumer touchpoints post-purchase were few and far between, now they have the chance to have an ongoing dialogue and upselling opportunities.

Keep It Simple, Stupid
In the years I’ve been working in the automotive sector I’ve often noticed that tech comes at a price in-car. Too often manufacturers bundle in lots of tech – which is great if you are tech-minded but lacks the simplicity of use. This will mean that many consumers don’t actually engage with what is on offer. Consumers of the future will want their cars to be just like their phones – simple to use and constantly getting better over time.

User Experience As A Differentiator
Personalisation and customisation will be able to be enriched via OTAs. This will allow manufacturers to differentiate themselves from one another. Technology will enable the vehicle to be pre-set just like a phone – so there would be no need to configure it when entering the vehicle.

The ability to keep the vehicle updated will help manufacturers gear up for greater levels of autonomy. As tech improves and legislation changes there will become less need for major overhauls – much of this will be able to be done with a vehicle sitting on a driveway.

It is an exciting and disruptive time to be playing in this space. The opportunities are endless and it will be fascinating to see who really comes up trumps and nails it.