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Imagine if the WYSIWYG user interface on PCs, Windows or the smartphone had been invented in Germany … I can already see you grinning all over. But this question alone is an excellent description of the status quo of digitization in Germany. Germans are “unfamiliar” with everything digital.

This applies not only to normal public life, but especially to German automakers. They are increasingly switching to Industry 4.0 technologies but their cars remain largely stuck in the pre-2000s as far as the state of digitalization is concerned (even if the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQS luxury electric power car will change things here).

One of the reasons for this is that for a long time, German automotive CEOs couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that the “smartphone on wheels” in particular is the future. With the electromobility revolution, more than ever, battery pack, propulsion, recuperation, Internet connectivity and real-time navigation are inconceivable without radical digitization.

Clever operating system

If Tesla has taught us one thing, it’s that anything is possible with a clever operating system and a powerful on-board computer, provided you can get regular updates without having to visit a repair shop.

Since Tesla has shown that even braking distances (as in the Model 3) can be shortened over-the-air through clever software adjustments alone, the German OEMs have also realized that it is no longer possible without an operating system (OS). Until now, they have relied on a decentralized embedded architecture that simply made it impossible to update vehicle electronics and peripherals globally.

In an Automobilwoche webinar on April 13, Artemis CEO Alexander Hitzinger also admitted that the transition to a proprietary OS (in this case, the VW OS) would be one of the most challenging tasks the company would be facing over the next few years. Hitzinger points out that this is by no means the end of the story. The digital challenges of the future also include autonomous driving, which requires a software architecture that is both clever and manageable. Not to mention artificial intelligence.

Great Masterminds

Hitzinger is by no means the only one who thinks this way. All German OEMs are struggling with the absence of an operating system and working feverishly to catch up. But anyone familiar with the IT industry knows that “a lot helps a lot” is not effective in this case. Even if the OEMs now see themselves as “system integrators,” bringing thousands of developers from Silicon Valley, Bangalore and Germany on board, in the end, great masterminds are missing. That’s because they are rare and are already well situated at IT giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, in China and…Tesla.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugène Franken, Katleen Gabriels and Bernd Maier-Leppla, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working on solutions to the problems of our time in their own way. So that Tomorrow will be better. Here are all the previous episodes.