By on December 7, 2021

On Tuesday, Stellantis announced a plan to cultivate €20 billion ($23 billion USD) per year by 2030 via “software-enabled product offerings and subscriptions.” However, the automaker will first need to increase the number of connected vehicles it has sold from 12 million (today) to 34 million by the specified date.

This is something we’ve seen most major manufacturers explore, with some brands firmly committing themselves to monetizing vehicular connectivity through over-the-air (OTA) updates, data mining, and subscription services. Though much of this looks decidedly unappetizing, often representing a clever way for companies to repeatedly charge customers for equipment that’s already been installed.  

“Our electrification and software strategies will support the shift to become a sustainable mobility tech company to lead the pack, leveraging the associated business growth with over-the-air features and services, and delivering the best experience to our customers,” said Carlos Tavares, Stellantis CEO. “With the three all-new AI-powered technology platforms to arrive in 2024, deployed across the four STLA vehicle platforms, we will leverage the speed and agility associated with the de-coupling of hardware and software cycles.”

Starting in 2024, Stellantis said it would also deploy three new technological platforms dependent upon artificial intelligence named STLA Brain, STLA SmartCockpit, and STLA AutoDrive. These will be launched with help from Alphabet/Google’s Waymo, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co’s Foxconn, and BMW.

According to the manufacturer, most services will be highly specific to individual brands. For example, Dodge will focus on OTA updates that prioritize enhanced performance — delivering more horsepower while maintaining emissions compliance (more on that later). Meanwhile, Jeep will offer software updates that help with off-road scenarios as Alfa Romeo focuses on delivering sharper handling and Ram focuses on increasing payload capacities.

That’s the pitch anyway. But it sounds to me that these vehicles will come from the factory less capable than they could have been with the option for customers to unlock their full potential through OTAs and subscriptions.

Due to its ties with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Stellantis is often viewed as a technological laggard. As FCA was hoping to be bought for its iconic brands (namely Jeep), the company hadn’t bothered to spend the kind of money on electrification and data monetization as the bulk of its rivals. While your author doesn’t see a real downside to an automaker perfecting older tech to give customers a solid ROI (it’s been working pretty well for Toyota), Stellantis obviously doesn’t want to be viewed as behind the times.

As more businesses shift toward the dreaded goods-as-a-service model, we’re finding most companies aren’t terribly particular about what they’re charging us for. They just seem excited to have another opportunity to tack on another reoccurring payment. Provided that you cannot ever have direct control or legitimate ownership of the end product, someone is more than willing to sell it to you.

In the realm of video games, similar trends opened up the door to digital downloads that allowed shoppers to put entire libraries of games (modern and vintage) onto hard drives or into the cloud. Customers further benefited from online updates that added content and fixed bugs. But it wasn’t long before these services became a convenient way to release unfinished products and charge users for the kind of content that would have previously been free. Gamers soon found themselves signing 40-page service agreements just to have the privilege of playing the game they already bought, only to be confronted with relentless microtransactions that used gambling elements to deliver companies loftier profit margins. Many modern games cannot even be played unless the user has logged into the internet, maximizing the associated data services potential.

As a direct result, the core community became jaded, fractured, and distrustful of larger publishers. Mimicking the film industry, establishment gaming journalists dependent upon access continued giving favorable reviews to products the broader public had dubbed shoddy, incomplete, or tainted by corporate influence. But the criticism hasn’t stopped there. Gamers are now making claims that publishers have spent so much time copying each other’s business tactics that the entire industry has stagnated creatively and is no longer capable of evolving gameplay.

While the comparison to automakers isn’t one-for-one, manufacturers are indeed chasing down similar trends as they all try to rebrand themselves as software-slinging technology firms. This will likely result in wider margins and whole new revenue streams for some. But we’re likewise inclined to believe that any company running with the concept for too long will become a pariah. This is acceptable in the gaming industry because the core product is relatively affordable and there’s still plenty of room for growth. If your business decisions alienate legacy players, there’s a chance you can still scoop up younger players in another part of the world for a net win. But one wonders how it would translate to the automotive sector where the initial product represents the second-largest household purchase and market saturation is already exceptionally high.

Let’s consider General Motors tracking of customer behavior in their own cars to help determine how best to advertise. How about Ford’s current data-focused fleet analytics software? Mercedes’ decision to start charging customers for equipment that’s already inside the vehicle? BMW attempting to charge subscription fees for things most companies considered standard equipment? Tesla’s remote monitoring of driving behavior to determine who is worthy of the latest over-the-air updates? What about the fact that the government has already begun using vehicular connectivity to spy on people in real time?

Surely one of those has to register as a bridge not worth crossing, despite the fact that we’ve already made it to the other side.

We’ve even seen environmental groups float OTA updates as a way to remotely neuter cars as emission compliance rules change. Worried that the V8 you purchased in 2024 wasn’t going to be regulations friendly in 2028? In the future, you won’t have to because the manufacturer will be able to change the vehicle’s programming on the fly.

Mr. Tavares said that all of Stellantis’ upcoming connectivity features will result in the automaker becoming more like a tech company than a car firm and that they would ultimately result in longer-lasting vehicles with higher resale values. This again clashes with reality as Subaru, Toyota, Honda, and Dodge tend to have the strongest resale value (among mass-market brands) and none of them are known for putting the latest tech into their core lineup.

I’m of the mind that the Stellantis software presentation was more about goosing technology-obsessed investors than showcasing future technologies. Prospective services were lumped into “Five Key Pillars” representing more or less what every other manufacturer hopes to achieve using connectivity as a springboard. They included Services and Subscriptions, Features On Demand, Data as a Service and Fleet Services, Vehicle Pricing and Resale Value, and finally Conquests, Service Retention and Cross-Selling. Discussions pertaining to the STLA programs were less specific, highlighting general capabilities than any specific tasks they might be utilized for.

From Stellantis:

STLA Brain is fully OTA capable, with 30 modules addressed, versus 10 today, making it highly flexible. It is a service-oriented architecture fully integrated with the cloud that connects electronic control units within the vehicle with the vehicle’s central high performing computer (HPC) via a high-speed data bus. It breaks today’s bond between hardware and software generations, enabling software developers to create and update features and services quickly without waiting for a new hardware launch. These OTA updates dramatically reduce costs for both the customers and Stellantis, simplify maintenance for the user and sustain vehicle residual values.

STLA SmartCockpit, built on top of STLA Brain, will seamlessly integrate with the digital lives of vehicle occupants to create a customizable third living space. Studies show that customers spend an average of four years of their lives in their vehicles and this is only increasing.

STLA SmartCockpit, powered by the Mobile Drive joint venture between Stellantis and Foxconn, delivers AI-based applications such as navigation, voice assistance, e-commerce marketplace and payment services.

STLA AutoDrive, developed in partnership with BMW, will offer Level 2, Level 2+ and Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities and will be continuously upgraded through OTA updates.

Frankly, any criticisms one might make against Stellantis could be leveraged against most other legacy manufacturers. The company hardly exists in a vacuum and is debatably behind in some of the tech that’s becoming commonplace elsewhere. While much of that is empty promises hoping to entice investors or the predatory monetization of customer data, there’s potential for genuinely useful features that might make driving more enjoyable. But the latter aspect doesn’t seem to be the priority when Stellantis (and several other automakers) plan to launch an “insurance product” that sets premiums based on the data being amassed about how you drive. Scheduled to debut in 2022, the company intends to use captive lenders in Europe and North America before expanding the data-tracking insurance scheme to other parts of the world.

Considering the financial success of Facebook and other companies that have found new ways of harvesting and monetizing customer data, it’s hardly surprising to see the automotive industry trying to get a piece of the action. It’s just not evident that the market will be indefinitely tolerant of such invasive tactics. Right now, the public is largely unaware of how most of this works. But the more people that learn just how aggressive manufacturers have been in regard to data acquisition, the more tell me they will attempt to opt out of these services. Then again, if the industry manages to normalize this (perhaps with help from lobbyists, government regulators, technology partners, and insurance companies) it might not matter.

[Image: NeydtStock/Shutterstock]

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34 Comments on “Driving Dystopia: Stellantis Is Becoming a Software Company Like Everyone Else...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    ” Right now, the public is largely unaware of how most of this works. But the more people that learn just how aggressive manufacturers have been in regard to data acquisition, the more tell me they will attempt to opt out of these services.”

    So…some people will want to opt out. Seems to me that’s a simple solution, and doesn’t require all this Orwellian hand-wringing.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Right. Why warn anyone else about an impending disaster while there’s still a chance to fix things?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “Why warn anyone else about an impending disaster while there’s still a chance to fix things?”

        Umm…how many people access TTAC on their smart phones? Most don’t know or don’t care about all of the data mining. Most won’t care about cars doing it too.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve Biro

          “Then again, if the industry manages to normalize this (perhaps with help from lobbyists, government regulators, technology partners, and insurance companies) it might not matter.”

          I think Matt sums it up very well here. I also think this is exactly what we can expect. Some of it is already in the recently passed U.S. infrastructure bill.

          Time to get a vehicle while you can still disarm most of this stuff – and keep it for a very long time. If you can avoid purchasing a new car at all, even better. But that strategy will only work for so long – and for people above, say, the age of 60.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    The Minitel was a videotex online service accessible through telephone lines, and was the world’s most successful online service prior to the World Wide Web. It was invented in Cesson-Sévigné, near Rennes in Brittany, France.

    The service was rolled out experimentally on 15 July 1980[1] in Saint-Malo, France, and from autumn 1980 in other areas, and introduced commercially throughout France in 1982 by the PTT (Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones; divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste).[2] From its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to what is now made possible by the World Wide Web.

    In February 2009, France Télécom indicated the Minitel network still had 10 million monthly connections. France Télécom retired the service on 30 June 2012.[2][3][4]

    france seems to have a 15+ year jump on online purchases

  • avatar
    aja8888

    When I bought our 2021 Hyundai Tucson, I opted out of their “free” for 3 years connection service (don’t remember the service name..blue something or other). I had to have the dealer call and opt me out.

    With these new connected revenue generators, just find the antenna and rip it out. Screw them. I bought the car to DRIVE, not send them checks.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Bluelink is pretty nice, actually. Those first 3 years are actually free.

      • 0 avatar
        aja8888

        I don’t need it, thank you. and I understand that it’s free (paid for somewhere in the pricing of the car). Driving 50 years without much going wrong. I’m sure it’s handy but as a retired engineer with not much driving to do these days, I can do without, free or otherwise. I have an Android cell phone, which by itself, can assist me in many ways.

        There are a lot of folks in my age group that would appreciate this service as many are not technically oriented. I can see that benefit for those folks.

        • 0 avatar
          Lynchenstein

          That Android phone is likely slurping up FAR more data on you than your car would have been, if that was your aim.

          I have no issues with connected cars, but what I DO have an issue with is the manufacturer, or worse, the dealer, having the keys to software locks to hardware features.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Our electrification and software strategies will support the shift to become a sustainable mobility tech company to lead the pack, leveraging the associated business growth with over-the-air features and services, and delivering the best experience to our customers”

    I count maybe 10 buzzwords straight out of the MBA Handbook. YMMV. I thought I had a strong stomach before reading that.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “Mimicking the film industry, establishment gaming journalists dependent upon access continued giving favorable reviews to products the broader public had dubbed shoddy, incomplete, or tainted by corporate influence.”

    Now where else might I have seen this dynamic play out?

  • avatar
    BSttac

    Carlos is going to run this thing into the ground. Hout late, dollar short.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    $23 billion USD per year divided by 34 million connected vehicles is approximately $56 per vehicle per month. (Source: Your Friendly Neighborhood MBA)

    Pretty sure the typical BMW customer will pay *way* more than $56 per month to be able to deactivate the turn signals.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “Our electrification and software strategies will support the shift to become a sustainable mobility tech company to lead the pack, leveraging the associated business growth with over-the-air features and services, and delivering the best experience to our customers,”

    Bingo, sir.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The Toyota truck commercial is so annoying I abandoned my original comment idea.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Found out last night that my Chromebook is Scheduled to Die* six months from now. I find this ironic, since the hinge design is more robust than either of my last two laptops.

    *Auto Update Expiration (AUE) date

    Thank you Google, for being so Environmentally Responsible™ and Chip Shortage Savvy™.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “I have seen numerous articles discussing how Elon is at odds with the Biden administration, only to tack on his acknowledgment that China is becoming a dominant world power as a way to discredit him. The reality is quite a bit more complicated than Musk taking sides. Despite having made sizable gains in Asia, the Chinese government has been extremely critical of Tesla and has leveled accusations that its cars can be used by the U.S. for spying. It even went so far as to bar Tesla models from being parked anywhere near military bases as a result.”

    China is a dead end for American companies, and they might as well get used to that idea. Chinese companies, whether automakers of chipmakers, will be mature eventually, and the Chinese government will find a way to buy out or force out foreign companies, and shut down joint ventures.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “We’ve even seen environmental groups float OTA updates as a way to remotely neuter cars as emission compliance rules change. Worried that the V8 you purchased in 2024 wasn’t going to be regulations friendly in 2028? In the future, you won’t have to because the manufacturer will be able to change the vehicle’s programming on the fly.”

    Well this about takes the cake, and we already got a whole bunch of insanity going on in Clown World. Now the impetus behind Patriot Act -originally drafted in 1993- is finally making sense.

  • avatar
    stuki

    The important takeaway, is what the guy is planning and promising. But that he _is_ planning and promising. Instead of building and doing.

    Guys who can, do the latter. Leaving only those who can’t, to wallow with the central bank welfare queens in the cesspool which is the former.

  • avatar
    Ralahamy

    Encounters with AI Software agents , for example calling Apple to make an enqiury, seem more like encounters with AS – Artificial Stupidness.

  • avatar
    Ralahamy

    Encounters with AI Software agents , for example calling Apple to make an enqiury, seem more like encounters with AS – Artificial Stupidness.

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