Does the Fiat Chrysler Software Recall Pave the Way for Detroit Coders?
With 1.4 million cars in the digital shop, it's time for the auto industry to get serious about software.
This morning, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles with Uconnect dashboard computers after digesting a fact that was clear a year ago: The cars could be hacked remotely. Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, who demonstrated that hack at last years Black Hat conference in Vegas (the fact that this year’s event is upcoming seems relevant here) were never circumspect about their work; Chrysler just under-reacted slowly. Still, today’s announcement was interesting for two reasons: The recall only required owners to update software with distributed USBs, and the prevailing wisdom among marketers is that car tech is the whole game.
The car sales bust that the auto industry started fretting about as soon as it was done fretting about the U.S. economic implosion of 2008 never really arrived. Today, the young people incessantly referred to as Millennials by the sort of people that talk like that, are the second largest group of new car buyers. Much of the auto industry credits the proliferation of in-car tech with the conversion of smartphone consumers to car consumers. What does the Fiat Chrysler mean in the context of that trend? It’s hard to say on a consumer level because market prognosticators have demonstrated an impressive ability to be wrong, but it likely presages a movement within the industry to improve tech, particularly software.
For drivers, particularly younger, computer-literate drivers, this is great news — and not because of hacking. Yes, the auto industry needs computer talent, and coding talent in particular, to shore up its defenses, but it also needs to rethink the basic interaction between the humans and wheels. With ridesharing and [Uber](https://www.uber.com/, and something called Lyft on the rise, consumers aren’t being unreasonable when they expect to get more than transportation from their cars. Cars should provide a home base for the people who drive them, a moveable office and a comfort. Our phones can get us from point A to point B, so we need out cars to do something else. Software isn’t the whole answer, but it should be part of it.
As for whether or not there’s going to be a migration from Menlo Park to Detroit, well, it’s unlikely to happen tomorrow. But you better believe that company recruiters will be flocking toward the setting sun. They may be too late, but that is — within the context of the domestic auto industry — just in time.