Over the air and far away

Imagine that the Google Play Store gets in touch with you on your cell phone. The message: Please go to the nearest mobile store, an update for the Chrome app is available now and can be installed there. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what numerous car manufacturers are still asking their customers to do.

Today’s vehicles are basically driving smartphones and therefore need constant updates for their operating system or the numerous applications, just like cell phones or notebooks. In the case of smartphones, tablets and the like, this happens via so-called over-the-air updates (OTA). The necessary data is requested with a click, transmitted via a cellular connection and automatically installed on the device. The entire process sometimes takes just a few seconds or a few minutes at most – and in many cases it’s free. That’s how the digital world works today. Except in cars. At least not in everyone’s.

JATO Dynamics has taken a look at the market situation for over-the-air updates of new cars in Germany, which segments are doing well and which manufacturers offer OTA for which models. All in all, it can be said that the situation is still very modest. At the end of 2022, just 34 percent of the vehicles on offer were designed for wireless data transfer.  So two out of three models still have to go to the workshop to be updated.

However, this applies less frequently to cars from some segments than others. Not surprisingly, the popular SUVs in particular are being equipped with OTA first. Just under half of the vehicles available with OTA belong to one of the numerous SUV segments. Only mid-range models can keep up. Surprisingly, the increasingly rare MPVs cannot communicate via OTA at all, and the situation in the segment of small and very small vehicle is still very poor – even among the small SUVs.

OTA updates available by Segment in Germany, market share, December 2022

BMW offers the most OTA model-trims

There are clear differences between the brands. BMW is the pioneer. The Munich-based company, which introduced data transfer via cellular connections to cars as early as the mid-2000s, now offers OTA for 55 model-trims. The 3 Series, with eight model-trims, and the 2 Series, with four, are among the top 10. Mercedes had 35 model-trims with OTA on offer at the end of last year, including the A and B Class, each with five model variants. Renault (24 model-trims) and Jaguar (21 model-trims) are also already doing quite well. Jaguar’s F-Pace even has nine model variants with OTA – making it the front-runner among the models. Remarkably, while Ford offers eight model-trims of the Focus with OTA, it is not among the top 10 brands.

Red: not available, Blue: available as standard, Violet: available as an “option”

The situation with the drive types is equally interesting, because over-the-air technology only really took off with electromobility. All the more surprising: of the – admittedly few – e-cars with range extenders, not a single model has OTA. Four out of five models with hybrid drive cannot be reached remotely either. Even vehicles with internal combustion engines are in a better position: at least one in three models had wireless data transfer at the end of 2022.

The situation is even better for cars with plug-in and mild hybrid drives. Around half of the respective model-trims are equipped with OTA. A special feature is that the technology is offered as an option for a good 1.5 percent of mild hybrid cars, while it is standard for all other vehicles – or not at all. But even the purely battery-electric cars are still a long way from being fully equipped with the convenient software update. Just 55 percent of the e-models on offer can be accessed over the air. But that will certainly change soon. It can be assumed that manufacturers will be able to make quite an earning with additional services that they send to the car via OTA. The mobile phone industry has lead the way in this case.

More about JATO and the products can be found here.

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