Vehicles are being digitised and automated, electrification is increasing and users are asking for services in new ways. So the sector is facing major changes to the entire supplier structure.
Changes where extremely specialised subcontractors gain an increasingly important role. So predicts Kent Eric Lång, Deputy CEO of RISE Viktoria and head of Vehicle ICT Arena at Lindholmen Science Park. The VICTA cluster organisation is one of the Gothenburg region's meeting places for stakeholders in the connected automotive industry.
Demands on safety are much stricter for vehicles, but otherwise a comparison with a smartphone isn't too far-fetched to describe what's happening. Users themselves update their mobiles with new software, and can conveniently download apps with new innovative functions.
"Cars will probably never get their own App Store, but we can still draw parallels between how user needs and the ability of companies to translate them into services and products will increasingly affect the industry," says Kent Eric.
Exactly how things will turn out and work we cannot yet say. "But it will entail previously unseen business opportunities and completely different conditions for subcontractors."
One term to keep tabs on in the discussion is OEM, Original Equipment Manufacturer, that is to say auto manufacturers like AB Volvo, Volvo Cars and CEVT. Under them we have the first level of suppliers, Tier 1, system suppliers in areas such as safety, like Autoliv or major companies in Japan, Germany and the USA. And below them we have Tiers 2 and 3, the supplier levels where things are really happening at the minute; they're working hard and making names for themselves. This is where the research-intensive, innovative, small and extremely specialised companies are found.
"System suppliers will continue to deliver platforms to factories and take responsibility for the whole. But I hope for and believe in a growing supplier industry based on software and various cloud services," he says.
The Gothenburg area is home to several extreme specialists, from startups to established companies working with eye tracking technology, in-car entertainment, multimodality, real-time systems, communication innovation, smart security... the list goes on.
They have a growing market, largely due to the automotive industry doing well and as such being willing to invest in innovation. But also due to the meeting places that have been established.
Vehicle ICT Arena was founded five years ago by Lindholmen Science Park and is dedicated to driving discussion, spreading knowledge, marketing and creating partnerships between stakeholders. Among other things they are co-arranging, for the twelfth consecutive year, the Vehicle Electronics & Connected Services Conference on 9-10 May at the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre. Innovation Bazaar, an event where small companies get the chance to present themselves and seek out new, larger partners, is organised twice a year.
"We need to help each other raise awareness among customers and their clients of the extreme specialists that are out there. The more opportunities they get to work together with the car companies and system suppliers, the faster it becomes a win-win-win situation."
Although according to Kent Eric, Gothenburg could benefit from more of a Silicon Valley-type culture.
"If we're going to be successful we need more transparency. I meet many people with experience from Silicon Valley who say that we're too secretive here. The key to success is to be fast, and that requires the courage to share and associate. We're not quite there yet."
One particular strength he sees in the Gothenburg region is found primarily in traffic safety, which opens the way for small companies that work, for example, with eye sensors or functions based on collating big data.
"The Volvo companies' brands have always been associated with safety and over time it's become something that permeates not only the image, but also the approach, technology choices and processes."
One major threat, however, is human resource planning.
"Vehicle ICT Arena works a great deal with accumulating expertise and attracting more new recruits. The Gothenburg region has great potential; we're part of a strong automotive industry, Swedish expertise in telecoms and IT is solid, and we're used to working in partnerships between industry, academia and the public sector."
Vehicle ICT Arena has also initiated the VICTA Lab, a digital development environment.
"The VICTA Lab provides smaller actors with the opportunity to test and simulate their innovations in the relevant technical context at an early stage. We're involved in course modules at Chalmers University of Technology and the universities in Skövde and Halmstad so that students can work more with industrial applications, which strengthens the ties between education and industry," says Kent Eric.
Then we have VICTA-X, which works for greater diversity in the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry.
"It is, however, impossible to say how many new jobs this altered industrial structure will create. We have in fact put no less than two thesis project students to work on looking at this. But in the long run, we're probably talking about tens of thousands of jobs."
This is Vehicle ICT Arena
Run by Lindholmen Science Park and offers an open environment for innovation and human resource and succession management in vehicle IT. The aim is to help secure Swedish competitiveness within sustainable and safe mobility.
Many types of actors are involved, from small, recently established engineering firms through research institutes, universities and colleges to service companies and established suppliers.
The arena is financed by Region Västra Götaland. Business Region Göteborg is one of the partners.
Kent Eric Lång
Head of Vehicle ICT Arena and involved on several levels in the development of the ecosystem of connected vehicles and how they affect the industry and the region. Kent Eric's roles include Deputy CEO of the research institute RISE Viktoria, which works with the long-term and sustainable development of the Swedish automotive industry, and head of Drive Sweden's Test Site Gothenburg.