Tesla pioneered the idea of the over-the-air software update for electric cars. What used to be considered unusual — getting updates via the internet — is now the default solution for today’s EVs, which are as much computers on wheels as they are vehicles.
Volkswagen has fully embraced the transition to electric transportation as much as any traditional automaker. Not only is it planning new, more efficient factories to make them, it is running those factories on renewable energy and working to reduce carbon emissions in its supply chain. It has also made over-the-air updates available on its electric cars.
Over-The-Air Updates Aren’t Easy
Cars today have dozens of systems that are controlled by computers. Batteries require management systems, drive-by-wire steering and braking systems need redundancy to make them as safe as conventional controls with mechanical components, and regenerative braking requires special control algorithms. And then there are the navigation and driver assist features that need to be coordinated with infotainment systems. No wonder Volkswagen says that in the future, its cars may come with up to 300 million lines of computer code embedded within their operating computers.
It’s pretty well known that Volkswagen has had software issues with its new ID.-branded electric cars. Thousands of them were parked for months waiting for computer engineers to fix glitches before they could be delivered to customers. Recently, the company announced its latest 3.0 software upgrade, which is supposed to deal with many of the operating bugs embedded in earlier versions and offer many enhancements driver want.
Now comes word that many of those ID.-badged cars will need to be brought back to a franchised Volkswagen dealer to be worked on by a factory trained technician before the 3.0 software package can be installed and activated. Having to bring your car to a dealer to fix things was supposed to be one of the things that over-the-air updates were supposed to eliminate. Hopefully, this will be the one and only time owners of Volkswagen EVs will have to do this. Cars leaving the factory today will not be affected.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that it has learned from the company that all VW ID.3 and ID.4 vehicles already out there will have to return to a dealer as part of a “voluntary” service campaign, which will affect about 200,000 owners. According to Electrive, the purpose of the dealer visit is to bring the existing fleet up to as uniform a software status as possible. “We have noticed that there are currently still a lot of vehicles on the road with very different software statuses,” the company says. The ID.3 and ID.4 cars will first have to receive software version 2.4 at the dealership before the version 3.0 software can be installed over the air.
There is a bright side to this. Volkswagen says dealers will install a new 12 volt battery free of charge at the time of the software upgrade. The new battery is significantly more cycle-resistant and better able to cope with the high energy requirements of an electric car. The 12 volt battery that came with the cars originally might not have been able to cope with the complex over-the-air update to software 3.0.
So there is some good news and some bad news, but the EV revolution continues to roll forward nonetheless. Mistakes are the best teachers. Volkswagen has made plenty of them as it tries to turn itself into one of the largest manufacturers of electric vehicles in the world. At least it learns from them and continues to move forward. If you already own an ID. car from VW, don’t fret. Your car will soon be better than the day you brought it home. That’s something few owners of conventional vehicles ever get to say.
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