DETROIT – In a move that advances the global cause of standardized electrical architectures, General Motors Corp. announces it will adopt the Automotive Open System Architecture, otherwise known as Autosar.

Formed in 2003, the partnership aims to establish a standard upon which future vehicle applications will be implemented. The platform is an attempt to standardize non-competitive software in vehicles.

The average car, for instance, has about 50 electronic control units, each one of them unique, with customized software. Instead of producing customer-specific ECUs, Autosar would enable suppliers to produce a standardized ECU that could be used by multiple auto makers, with varying functionality depending on the customer’s need.

In addition, Autosar would allow the ECU and software to be reused (and improved) when a vehicle program comes up for renewal. Traditionally, those components required a clean-sheet design for a new vehicle program.

The potential cost savings from eliminating redundant engineering are enormous, but Autosar representatives are reluctant to attach a value.

European auto makers, including Volkswagen AG and BMW AG, led the way in launching the Autosar initiative. The other seven core partners are DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Co., PSA Peugeot Citroen, Siemens VDO Automotive, Robert Bosch GmbH, Continental AG and Toyota Motor Corp.

GM’s Ronn Jamieson says the auto maker will join Autosar.

Autosar representatives were extremely pleased Tuesday afternoon to hear Ronn Jamieson, GM’s executive director-electrical controls and software, say at a moderated panel here at the Convergence International Congress on Transportation Electronics that the world’s No.1 auto maker will join Autosar.

GM had been conspicuous by its absence in Autosar, but Jamieson insists there never was any reluctance to join on the part of GM.

“It’s more a meeting of the minds between GM and the Autosar group, coming to some agreement about the level of expectations for both sides,” Jamieson tells Ward’s. “I think we’ve come to that agreement.”

Although Ford and DaimlerChrysler have been active in Autosar, representatives from both say their European operations have been much more involved than their U.S. arms.

Jamieson, however, says he expects North American operations to lead GM’s Autosar efforts.

“We’re trying to operate more as a global company,” he says. “For certain reasons, we would have Opel (Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary) join, but the predominant interaction and participation will be from the North American side. But we expect to have participation from a couple of our regional engineering centers.”

It remains unclear how soon vehicles will be on the road with the Autosar architecture, and representatives of the consortium say it is not a race to be first.

Among Tuesday’s panel members, VW was the only auto maker saying it definitely will have an Autosar vehicle in production within seven years. Some Autosar officials expect the first Autosar car on the road in the 2008 timeframe.

Participating in the panel discussion were VW,GM, Ford, DC, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

Jamieson says GM is joining Autosar because the organization is philosophically aligned with the auto maker’s recent technological developments.

“We saw a lot of similarities between what they wanted to do vs. the things we’ve already done,” he says. “We felt we had a lot to contribute.”

Quantifying the cost savings from Autosar is a difficult proposition for GM and other auto makers.

“I wish I could because our CEO would love to know,” Jamieson says with a chuckle. “Intuitively, we feel overall it’s a more effective way to do business. The more you standardize and the less you have to redo and revalidate, it’s one of those intuitive things.”

Components that could be standardized, such as ECUs, already have near-commodity status.

“What distinguishes them is how we hook them to the outside world,” Jamieson says. “There have been efforts in connectors, efforts in communication protocols, and now this gets standardization of the actual internal software itself.”

Potentially, Autosar could drive down the cost of cars, but, again, Autosar members are reluctant to attach a value. “We know the economy of scale,” Jamieson says. “Once the volume goes up, the per-unit cost goes down at some point.”

Panel moderator Paul Hansen, publisher of the Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics, says GM’s involvement in Autosar is good news for the consortium.

“Autosar needs GM,” Hansen says, adding that the FlexRay network protocol for vehicles got a significant boost when GM joined that initiative several years ago.

FlexRay is one of five vehicle networks that are in production or planned for the near future.

Hansen describes Autosar as a software architecture. “It’s like the design for how all the intellectual property of the vehicle will relate to each other, how all the ECUs will relate,” Hansen says. “Autosar would make use of and comprehend that there are several networks in the vehicle.”

Despite support for Autosar from most of the world’s auto makers (as well as dozens of Tier 1, software and semiconductor suppliers), Hansen says Autosar is not guaranteed success.

“If Autosar is successful, and that is in no way a solid probability, in 10 years this industry will be entirely different,” he says. “When you buy an ABS system from Bosch, you get an ECU and software algorithms that tell the brakes how to operate. In the future, with Autosar…that software could be run in a Bosch ECU or Siemens ECU or Delphi (Corp.) ECU. The ECU will become ‘commoditized.’”

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com