Special Coverage

Convergence

DETROIT – Software content in vehicles is rapidly rising and soon could become a chief factor behind the purchase decision, executives at KPIT Cummins Infosystems Ltd. say.

“One car will differ from another car largely based on the software dedicated to it,” says Anup Sable, vice president-automotive and allied embedded tools at Pune, India-based KPIT Cummins.

Founded as KPIT Infosystems in 1991, the company began supplying the global automotive sector in 2002 after it merged with Cummins Infotech, the Indian software-development unit of U.S. diesel engine maker Cummins Inc.

“We definitely have benefited from the Cummins expertise,” Sable says.

Cummins still owns a minority stake in KPIT Cummins, although the company operates independently of the engine maker in securing business with other OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and semiconductor manufacturers.

KPIT Cummins, which dedicates about 40% of its business to the automotive sector, writes software for every subsystem of the vehicle.

Kishor Patil, CEO and managing director at KPIT Cummins, cites entertainment features, which auto makers are rushing to install as the mix shifts towards smaller vehicles with greater content, as one example of software differentiating a vehicle.

Software is not as expensive for OEMs as other unique content items, he says. “People are buying cars today based on their software. That change is occurring.”

But as vehicle software richens to meet consumer demand for gee-whiz technology and stricter government safety and emissions standards, the growth also presents challenges as engineers focus on reliability.

“Years ago, it was just a few thousand lines of software managed by a few people, and today it's millions of lines written by 300-400 people,” Sable tells Ward's ahead of this week's Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here.

The amount of software in the typical radio-navigation system, some estimates suggest, will grow from 1.2 million lines of code in the '08 model year to 2.8 million lines of code in '10.

“It was also a lot simpler before; it was braking and that was about all,” Sable says, referring to the arrival of antilock brakes in the 1980s. “But now you have engines, brakes and chassis talking to each other. The whole process of developing software becomes more complex.”

Writing software with computer models and then testing the codes virtually has vastly improved reliability, but the Automotive Open System Architecture also will play a major role, he says, noting KPIT has been a premium member of the consortium since 2005.

A 4-year-old consortium of more than 100 auto makers and suppliers, Autosar standardizes non-competitive software in vehicles and allows OEMs to focus more intently on applications that surprise and delight consumers.

The rush to meet worldwide fuel economy and emissions-reduction goals also will challenge software architects. “You'll need more sophisticated systems with better controls,” Patil says, noting each car market has its own solution, and tighter standards are being quickly implemented.

Sable says his native country of India, for instance, soon will realize international vehicle-emissions standards through the use of software.

While some industry analysts have said the gap in India's current emissions standards is too great to overcome quickly, Sable points to the strides the emerging market has made in telecommunications over a short period.

“We were far behind, and now we have one of the more robust and sophisticated telecom networks in the world,” he says.

However quickly up-and-coming markets, such as India's progress with emissions reductions, Patil expects KPIT Cummins to benefit greatly from technology developments in the global automotive landscape.

“All this change is very fortunate for a company like ours, which is very focused.”