Car hacking may be a hot topic but BMW’s senior vice president for electronics, Christoph Grote, said it is not unfamiliar territory. The industry has been finding ways to stop another form of unauthorized entry, car theft, for years. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Olive Keogh about how that experience will help BMW.
How big a potential problem is hacking for the automotive industry?
It’s a fashionable topic but not entirely new to us. We have been exposed to a similar threat in the form of car theft for a long time. In that sense we have a technical history of preventing car theft and preventing people from starting our cars without a key. However, the threat of manipulating the car has definitely increased. We’ve made efforts for quite a while to test if someone can penetrate our cars. We’ve hired talent not just to build systems that are as resilient as possible to hacking, but also people who are good at it in order to test ourselves.
The threat of hacking is making people nervous about connected cars. Should they be worried?
With respect to BMW, I am very positive that we have the right competencies within the company to defeat them. But the truth of hacking is that you are never done. It’s not a situation where we can ever say we know we are safe forever.
Are Google and Apple friends or foes?
I’m quite relaxed about it because, in general, BMW has always appreciated forming partnerships with such companies. In fact, we set up a technical office in Silicon Valley back in the 1990s. If they become competitors we would see it as a stimulus, not as something to fear. Traditionally, we have had competition from within the car industry and have grown stronger through it. If new entrants come, then that’s a new game and it will be in customers’ interests to see who will prevail and with what solutions.
BMW is well advanced with its connected car offerings. When did the automaker get started?
In 1999. The first big wave for connected cars started in the mid-1990s but just before it was about to happen a lot of people got nervous and withdrew. There were a few automakers that pulled it off, basically three including BMW, and we stuck with it and gradually ramped up our penetration to what is now about 90 percent of our cars being connected. We’ve been building functionality on the infotainment and safety sides since.
Have you already started to make the move to next-generation mobile networks, 5G, and why do you think it’s a positive development?
It matters a lot to connected cars. We have been working with major telecos (telecommunications companies) and also with some equipment manufacturers to shape 5G and make it useful for connected cars. In the past a lot of the connectivity was related to classical entertainment services. In the future a lot of the functionality will be more “serious.” For example, automated driving will require the car to be entirely safe even without a mobile connection. On the other hand, a lot of the services that 5G can enable will help make that a really good product. Automated cars will move based on maps and sensors, relating what they see to what’s in the map. Updating that map is going to be something done through mobile connections. Local danger warnings and specific traffic conditions, such as end-of-queue warnings or slippery road conditions, can all be done in a much better way with 5G. Low-latency spectral efficiency is one key advantage of 5G.
Do you see 5G being helpful to the auto industry in other ways?
Yes, indirectly. Let me explain. A lot of people talk about the Internet of Things but one of the troubling things is that if you hook up all connected things to the Internet through Wi-Fi then it’s going to be a pretty shaky connection and a big job to maintain it. While 5G, with its more centralized infrastructure, allows the connection to things to be maintained. In this context “things” may be road signs or charging infrastructure for example.