The new spokesman for the Autosar consortium knows a thing or two about vehicle electrical architectures and the benefits of standardization.

Helmut Fennel, vice president-control systems software at German supplier Continental Automotive Systems, gets credit for a mammoth technical breakthrough in the 1980s that ushered in widespread use of antilock braking systems (ABS) in vehicles around the world.

At the time, he was working for Alfred Teves Brakes, which Continental later acquired in 1998.

No, Fennel did not pioneer the ABS concept itself. That honor goes to competitor Robert Bosch GmbH, which was first to market with the system in the late 1970s.

But that initial ABS module required customized circuitry, which was expensive and completely lacking in flexibility. Fennel used a microprocessor instead, writing the programming code himself in the early 1980s.

His first ABS modules appeared in 1984 in the U.S. in the Lincoln Mark VII and in Europe in the Ford Scorpio.

Fennel theorized, correctly, that a highly flexible microprocessor could be altered easily by writing new code that would completely change the functionality of the ABS module. “It could change from one day to another,” he says.

Soon, all brake producers, including Bosch, switched to microprocessors to provide the brainpower for ABS. By the mid-1990s, ABS functionality had expanded dramatically to include traction control and skid-preventing electronic stability control, supporting Fennel's argument.

After 29 years with Teves (and now Continental), Fennel is responsible for control strategies and control systems engineering for electronic braking systems.

His latest task places him at the center of Autosar, a German-led organization created in 2003 to establish an open standard for automotive electrical/electronic architectures. The Automotive Open System Architecture promises to slash development costs for both auto makers and suppliers, officials say.

In July, Fennel was appointed to a 9-month term as the official spokesman for Autosar, taking over for Thomas Scharnhorst, managing director of Carmeq GmbH, a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG.

Fennel will come to Detroit next month to speak at the Convergence automotive electronics conference, an event that has plenty riding on the success of the Autosar initiative. Convergence will be held Oct. 16-18 at Detroit's Cobo Center.

Autosar has accomplished plenty since Convergence 2004, including significant expansion of the consortium.

One of the big stories to come out of Convergence 2004 was the addition of General Motors Corp. (along with its Adam Opel GmbH subsidiary) as a core member of Autosar.

Other core partners are BMW AG, Bosch, Continental, DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Co., PSA Peugeot Citroen, Siemens VDO Automotive, Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen.

In addition, Autosar now has 50 premium members, including Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Renault SA, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Mazda Motor Corp., as well as 40 associate members, many of them Tier 2 and 3 suppliers of switches and connectors.

Two years ago, Autosar had 20 premium members and 10 associate members. Recently, Johnson Controls Inc. upgraded its status within Autosar from associate to premium membership. Premium members have voting rights within Autosar.

This past May, the organization published its Autosar 2.0 specifications, which represent the first step toward an open, standardized software architecture that will allow electronic systems to be integrated into cars more rapidly and cost-effectively.

Every company that joins Autosar is allowed to implement these specifications in its products. The new standard requires no new hardware.

Although the new standard results from many auto industry rivals working together, it will encourage further competition, not squelch it, Fennel assures.

“We will still cooperate on standardization but compete on implementation or functionality,” he says.

That means the new standard will open pathways for suppliers and auto makers to develop new features within vehicles and to continually upgrade them as consumer electronics evolve at breakneck pace.

One of Autosar's goals is to enable technology to manage the growing complexity of automotive electronics, without compromising quality.

The published specifications define, among other things, the operating system and hardware abstraction. Testing and verification are being completed now. Fennel says the standard (and full specification of the standard) will be finalized by the end of the year.

Next, the specifications will be implemented into software and integrated into electronic control units (ECUs). Autosar says the unique capability of networking and combining existing modules will lead to new features and functions.

The consortium is being crafted to support standardization, while allowing auto makers to retain certain brand characteristics.

“Every car, especially in Europe, has its own DNA,” Fennel says. “If you drive a BMW, it behaves completely different than a Volkswagen. This freedom must be given to the industry, otherwise competition would not be necessary.”

Each vehicle buyer has different needs and desires, and Fennel says that fact is a key driver for Autosar.

“We want, on one side, to reduce complexity,” he says. “Meanwhile, we want to increase the personality of the car, so we can individualize it to the specific needs of the end customer.”

As Autosar nudges the industry closer to a worldwide software standard for automotive electronics, the implications are vast for the development of future “mechatronic” components that combine mechanical and electronic functionality.

A mechatronic device is reasonably intelligent, with its own brain, or ECU. The average vehicle has about 50 ECUs, while high-end luxury vehicles loaded with features, such as the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class, have about 70, Fennel says.

The proliferation of ECUs may boost vehicle functionality, but it also adds significantly to cost and, in some cases, quality problems stemming from complexity.

“We need to network all ECUs in the car because they have to exchange information,” Fennel says. In addition, he says, the industry needs to reduce the number of ECUs in vehicles.

The Autosar solution enables the consolidation of ECUs, as software that functions in one part of the vehicle now can take on a new task elsewhere.

For instance, Fennel says, an engine ECU, which operates in extreme conditions and performs many critical functions, also can control ABS.

Likewise, auto makers can redefine their electrical distribution systems, allowing a single ECU to control door locks, seat adjusters and window lifts.

Fennel estimates Autosar could allow an auto maker to cut in half the number of ECUs necessary in a vehicle. “And we could go further in the future,” he says.

Complicating the status quo is the fact many ECUs from different suppliers do not communicate with each other. “The entire car communication gets more secure and higher quality,” Fennel says of the new standard.

Autosar also is dedicated to allowing software to be reused — not once, but many times, significantly reducing testing and quality costs.

The first production vehicles with electrical architectures incorporating the Autosar standard are likely to appear in 2008, Fennel says.

“Each manufacturer and all of the Autosar community must have its own integration plan,” he says. “It's extremely positive that nearly 100 companies have been working worldwide on the Autosar standard.”

Some 650 experts within the companies have given their time to the consortium.

A download of the Autosar standard is accessible at the organization's website, www.autosar.org.