Of course, automakers have been working on self-driving vehicles on their own for years, and  

traditional Tier 1 suppliers such as Bosch, Continental, ZF-TRW and Denso already supply advanced driver-assist systems, human-machine interfaces and head-up displays, as well as key components such as radar, camera and sensor systems.

But insiders say three or four years ago, automakers decided they didn’t want to hand over their interiors to giant consumer electronics providers and started reaching into the lower tiers for knowledge and more control over their brand identities.

“OEMs are going directly to companies like ours and the silicon vendors and saying, ‘We want to understand the technology well enough, and we want to create our brand and maintain our brand on the user experience side and then bring Tier 1s in at the right time and right place,’” says Michael Juran, CEO of Colorado Springs-based Altia. Altia has about 50 employees and offices in Detroit, Tokyo and Germany.

“They absolutely understand they need the Tier 1s, especially for software development, but they want to own the branding, the user experience, and they want to own the relationship between the physical vehicle and the (digital) vehicle,” Juran says.

OEMs are asking Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers how they can give drivers what they want without ceding the car to Silicon Valley, Juran says.

“From our perspective, we give them the opportunity to maintain control of that car, because we give them ways to build UIs (user interfaces) that don’t require Android, Linux, iOS (Apple) or Microsoft Windows.

“People say they love the richness of the UI and the graphics and ask if they have to use a Windows operating system or Google Android operating system to get it. We say no, we can give you a tool chain that will allow you to generate GUI (graphical user interface) software for that hardware platform, which in many cases is made by Renesas, and not require you to bring in one of these platforms or operating systems from Silicon Valley,” Juran says.

“Automakers are going back to the way they used to design cars, which is you design the car for the total experience and don’t just throw in as much technology as you can possibly throw in.”

dwinter@wards.com