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DETROIT – The first vehicles employing the Automotive Open System Architecture (Autosar) will be on the road next year, and the new approach will be used first for body electronics, says a supplier executive actively involved in rolling out the new electronic standard.

In 2009, Autosar will be used to produce electronic control units for automotive powertrain applications, followed in 2010 with chassis applications and in 2011 with the first safety-related ECUs, says Helmut Fennel, vice president-strategic projects, electronic brakes and safety systems for Continental Automotive Systems.

More than 100 auto makers and suppliers (including Continental) in the 3-year-old Autosar consortium are collaborating on a standard electronic foundation that can be used to produce ECUs that are interchangeable and reusable in other parts of the vehicle.

“Electronics dominate the car, and that will only accelerate,” Fennel says in a panel discussion here at the SAE International World Congress. “All of us in the auto industry must focus our engineering, our quality resources and our talents to creating a standard architecture.”

Also on the panel are three other Autosar proponents, Richard Burns of Yazaki North America Inc., Frank Homann of Siemens VDO Automotive AG and Martin Thomas of Robert Bosch GmbH.

Thomas, director-electronic control units for Bosch, says the Autosar standard raises tricky legal questions pertaining to product liability in the event of a failure: Is the supplier of the component responsible, or the auto maker that produced the vehicle, or even the entire Autosar consortium?

In a Q&A session, Thomas says he believes liability questions will be settled through “bilateral discussions” between the supplier and its auto maker customer.

Fennel agrees, saying the Autosar specification cannot be held responsible in matters of product reliability. “It needs to be worked out by the supplier and the OEM,” he says.

Despite issues of liability, Thomas supports Autosar “as a common framework for innovation” that all suppliers in the electronics sector can follow as they develop future product.

The framework is open-ended enough to allow for the specific components to differentiate from others in the marketplace, promoting competition.

Autosar promises to slash development costs and enable the consolidation of ECUs, as software that functions in one part of the vehicle now can take on a new task elsewhere.

Autosar should allow auto makers to cut in half the number of ECUs necessary in a vehicle (the average vehicle has about 50), while accommodating faster integration of a bevy of new vehicle electronic devices many consumers are demanding, Fennel says.

The average vehicle has about 600 electrical devices, and wiring them grows more difficult each year, says Yazaki’s Burns, chief engineer of research and development. The Japanese firm is the world’s largest supplier of automotive wiring harnesses.

Autosar will simplify many wiring challenges by allowing engineers developing new vehicle programs to plug in ECUs that previously have been validated.

“Why spend money to reinvent the wheel?” Burns asks.

He says Autosar will give engineers a “catalog of established functionality in automotive electronic development” and will enable computer-aided design models “that are brand-agnostic” and not tied to a particular ECU design.

“You should design something once and be able to reuse it,” Burns says.

A member of the audience asked the panel whether Autosar would merge with the Japan Automotive Software Platform and Architecture (JASPAR).

The consortium was formed by Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (and later joined by Honda Motor Co. Ltd.) to develop an integrated architecture for vehicle networking and software development, much like the German-led Autosar initiative.

Yazaki’s Burns says he expects the two approaches to converge eventually. “But for now, they are still separate standards,” he says.

Continental’s Fennel agrees the two standards someday will “converge,” noting Toyota, Nissan and Honda, while active in JASPAR, also are part of Autosar.