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Volkswagen to invest €3.5 billion in its own Apple-inspired open software

Wednesday, 5th September, 2018 4:28pm

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Jürgen Stackmann, Volkswagen’s Brand board member for sales, has announced the creation of Volkswagen We (Mercedes has already pinched the ‘Me’ moniker for its digital services). ‘We’ will be a software hub that will allow owners of Volkswagens to more closely integrate their digital lives into their cars, and allow VW to communicate more directly with its customers.

“Our customers will become part of an ecosystem that we have named ‘We’. This system complements the Volkswagen experience on wheels and enables customer to take their world into their vehicle,” said Stackmann, adding that, following the Apple model, the software will be, to an extent, open source, to allow third parties to contribute new apps and software that might improve the experience.

While that may get privacy and cyber-security antennae twitching, Volkswagen says that as much as the software needs to be created, the car itself will have to be re-invented somewhat. According to Michael Jost, VW’s Chief Strategy Officer, cars can currently have as many as 70 different computer black boxes, all of them using different, specific software.

To simplify that, Volkswagen is going to create the VW.OS operating system, that will tie all of those elements together, and which will allow such things as over-the-air updates, similar to those provided by Tesla. The software will also lay the groundwork for increasing levels of vehicle autonomy.

When will all this happen? Well, VW says that to an extent it’s already happening, with many cars already connecting to its web-based services.

By 2020, the company wants every car it makes to be fully connected, and that year will also see the debut of the all-electric ID hatchback, which will be a crucial part of VW’s connected car strategy.

As well as changing the nature of the car, it also means changing the nature of the business, and VW is already re-negotiating dealer contracts to allow the company to use this new cloud-based software to communicate directly with customers, giving them access to special offers, bypassing the traditional sales networks.

“Volkswagen is spearheading the development of the One Digital Platform in collaboration with the Group brands. And we are seeking additional external support. We will soon be announcing cooperation projects and partnerships,” said Christoph Hartung, head of digital and new business at VW.

That €3.5 billion investment is designed to “generate sales revenue running into billions from digital offerings and services,” said VW, and it’s also the foundation of major changes for the company. Volkswagen says that it wants to begin evolving “from an automaker to a mobility service provider with a connected fleet”.

That evolution is kicking off in Berlin with the launch of VW’s first We Share service. It will see 1,500 e-Golf electric cars (later to be joined by an additional 500 e-Ups) parked on streets across the German capital, available for instant short-term hire.

“We are democratising e-mobility,” said Stackmann. “We want to motivate young, urban users to engage with e-mobility. The people of Berlin will be the first to enjoy the electrifying experience of our We Share car sharing offering.”

From 2020 onwards, We Share will be used as a major platform for the roll-out of the new all-electric ID model range.

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