A top IT exec at General Motors says the industry's innovation depends on better software.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

March 4, 2003

2 Min Read

Software will play a huge role in auto-industry innovation in the next five to 10 years, but software quality isn't where it needs to be to bring the industry's vision to life, General Motors Corp.'s chief technology officer said Tuesday.

Tony Scott, CTO for information systems and services at GM, said the auto industry will move to vehicles that run on hydrogen-powered fuel cells and rely on Internet-connected on-board systems. But that will require massive infrastructure changes, huge leaps in software quality, and maturation of wireless technologies. Speaking at a Silicon Valley gathering of IT execs, entrepreneurs, and investors hosted by Technologic Partners, a publishing and services firm that tracks venture-capital activity, he challenged the software professionals to rise to the occasion by making the necessary improvements.

"The yardsticks for quality in the software industry are almost nonexistent," he said. "I don't want to be driving down the highway and have to control-alt-delete to do something."

Scott predicted that up to 60% of new vehicles will run on hydrogen within 10 years and said GM is investing about $1 billion in fuel-cell technology. "Fuel-cell technology isn't something we're taking lightly," he said. But Scott provided a glimpse of the auto industry's near-future needs for fuel-cell and other innovations to happen, and they're staggering. Among the challenges he said the industry faces in bringing to life its vision of hydrogen-powered vehicles, much of which will depend on new and innovative software products, are:

  • Creating the infrastructure necessary to distribute an entirely new type of fuel

  • Developing mobile, ad hoc communication networks

  • Supporting location-based services

  • Reducing warranty costs, which total $3 billion a year for GM

  • Supporting on-board cached content services

  • Advancing vehicle-monitoring capabilities

  • Building cars with more microprocessors without adding complexity to the driving experience

  • Adding the growing number of consumer devices owners will want in their future vehicles

But until software quality and simplicity improve, many of these innovations won't happen. "What if GM sold you a car [and] you had to take it to a systems integrator before you could drive it? We'd be out of business," Scott said. "The consumer is not going to manage the software in their automobiles, and they won't stand for the complexity of PCs."

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