DETROIT – The advantage of “digital” over analog is that it’s unambiguous. Digital means data distilled to ones or zeros and nothing in between.

If responses from top electronics developers for several auto makers are an indication, the prospects for imminent adoption of common automotive electrical system and software standards is, well, pretty analog.

At the panel “Car Makers Speak” presented at the 2006 Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference this week, electronics bosses from six global auto makers amicably agreed to disagree about the future of common electrical architectures – and the consortiums promoting them.

The vehicle manufacturers include DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

Moderator Paul Hansen asks panel members to raise their hands to indicate whether they believe various electrical standards will be adopted, in volume, within the next five to seven years. At no time is there consensus among the six in any vote.

“How about Autosar (the German-led consortium to develop a common vehicle electrical architecture)?” asks Hansen. Five of six hands are raised to indicate they believe Autosar-compliant architectures will be in volume production – but a few hands are hoisted with hesitation.

“(Autosar-compliant electrical systems) are not mature enough to put into products yet,” says Woong-chul Yang, Hyundai vice president-Automotive Electronics Center. He says the standard is attempting to incorporate “too many things” in its first generation.

Ronn Jamieson, director-GM North America HVAC, says GM (which joined the Autosar consortium two years ago) “fundamentally agrees” the industry needs to adopt an Autosar-type standard, but hedges slightly by adding, “Our intent is to apply it where it makes sense. “Suppliers are working on it vigorously,” he adds.

Japanese auto maker representatives are even more circumspect, perhaps because the industry is working on its own Autosar variant, JASPAR: Japan Automotive Software Platform and Architecuture.

Toyohei Nakajima, senior chief engineer, Honda R&D Co. Ltd., says Honda’s plan is to “investigate” Autosar. He says the auto maker is approaching the apparently competing efforts by examining how to leverage Autosar development by coordinating through JASPAR.

“I hope that in the future we can start to work with Autosar,” says Toshimi Abo, Nissan deputy general manager- Electronics Engineering Div.

There is more discussion when Hansen mentions the burgeoning FlexRay architecture.

William H. Mattingly, DC vice president-Electrical/Electronics Engineering, says his company’s electrical engineers are positive about FlexRay, saying the architecture is an “opportunity to simplify our designs” because of the system’s ability to consolidate the actions of several controller area networks.

As for the development of overarching software operating systems, the “windows” of future vehicle electrical networks, almost none among the panel believe there is any imminent potential commonization.

Graydon Reitz, Ford director-Electrical, Electronics Systems Engineering, says it might be productive to have operating systems standardized to some degree by suppliers, leaving auto makers to focus on more specific vehicle functions and applications and user interfaces.

When asked how suppliers can help to commonize electrical systems or components, DC’s Mattingly says he would like to see standardized frequencies used by various vehicle safety and convenience systems, such as radar-based adaptive cruise control and sonar-based reversing sensors.

Mattingly says OEMs should ask suppliers to work on frequency standards, “instead of arguing with the supply base over the cost of a particular frequency.”

Others on the panel agree the proliferation of these systems has created a complex matrix, which means there may be over-engineered solutions that cost too much or do not make the most of existing components.

Hyundai’s Yang and Ford’s Reitz says suppliers should focus on developing the “intelligent” sensors that are vital for the expanding wave of driver-information and safety systems, such as vision sensors for blind-spot warning systems.

And Nissan’s Abo says suppliers and auto makers, alike, must continue to improve the quality and robustness of software. He says the number of lines of onboard software code is increasing exponentially, pressuring software developers to maintain robustness.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com