By on May 25, 2022

Last week, Volkswagen’s supervisory board reportedly told management that it needed to work on improving the company’s software division. Though that should hardly be surprising considering how often digital glitches have delayed product launches and forced the automaker to issue sweeping recalls.

Software gremlins stymied the launch of numerous ID-badged EVs, the Mk8 Golf, and a handful of other vehicles from VW Group’s many subsidiaries. But the issues have persisted, with customers citing electrical troubles and noting that the automaker’s novel touchscreen interfaces are brutally unresponsive. Some of the problems were deemed so heinous that the company eventually recalled literally every current-generation Golf sold within its native Germany. But it’s going to have to do a lot more if it’s serious about leveraging computer code as the cornerstone of an evolving business model and the board of directors seems keenly aware of that fact. 

While VW has never been known for delivering automobiles devoid of electrical problems, the issue seems to have worsened since its diesel emissions scandal in 2015. In fact, Volkswagen Group initially responded to accusations of regulatory cheating by suggesting there was simply something wrong with the relevant software. But this turned out to be a convenient excuse for what was later determined to be clever code that was intentionally designed to cheat its way through increasingly stringent testing protocols.

Since then, the auto group has been pivoting toward electric models in the hopes that it can stay on the good side of government regulators and environmentalist mobs. Though software issues have continued to plague the company. Granted, an unresponsive touchscreen is hardly unique for the industry. However, Volkswagen’s issues extended into connectivity features, disabling over-the-air updates and new sources of revenue. While most automakers are currently trying to figure out how to leverage the vehicles connected to the internet for profit (e.g. customer data harvesting, marketing opportunities, hardware lockouts, and downloadable features), German automakers are arguably leading the charge.

Well, they’re trying to anyway.

Volkswagen’s software rollout went rather badly, resulting in Audi being tapped to head the group’s software development efforts in 2020. Now, according to Reuters, the supervisory board wants to see management deliver a totally reworked strategy. There will reportedly be a meeting ahead of the summer break, with top-level leadership expecting real solutions to VW’s ongoing software troubles. However, it sounds as though there may be some confusion as to what’s expected from its own engineers and Cariad — the automaker’s multinational software subsidiary.

From Reuters:

Volkswagen has called its software division, which is the central element in its autonomous driving push, “the most ambitious project of our entire industry to tap into the most relevant profit pools of the future”.

Cariad plans to challenge existing software incumbents, including Apple and Tesla, but has hit bumps in the road, which could become a problem for VW boss Herbert Diess, who is responsible for the unit on the group’s management board.

[Der] Spiegel first reported the news, not citing where it obtained the information, adding that the problems at Cariad, which have caused delays to product launches at Europe’s top carmaker, had been discussed at a supervisory board meeting on May 11.

Volkswagen Group has yet not commented on the matter and likely won’t until there’s a compressive strategy in place. After which, you can expect numerous corporate announcements explaining how those pesky software glitches have finally been dealt with. Though something tells me that VW and friends might be better off taking their foot off the throttle of progress for a time so it can focus on the fundamentals. Hurriedly transitioning toward a lineup of perpetually connected, all-electric vehicles by 2030 probably isn’t a goal worth pursuing if the resulting products are plagued with issues or stranded on assembly lines because of component shortages and bad computer code.

But even this assumes there will be widespread acceptance of EVs among the middle-and-lower classes. In truth, Volkswagen will need to court drivers in a way that makes electric vehicles appear truly desirable. Electrified range, especially when it’s tied to Europe’s Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), are frequently optimistic representations of what’s possible under real-world conditions. Despite making major headway on the global market, EVs are still viewed by many as niche vehicles for well-heeled people who don’t need to drive long distances. While the industry is working to change that by improving its range, Volkswagen has seemingly languished behind the curve.

Worse still, the vehicles themselves are becoming increasingly politicized. Part of this is unavoidable due to EVs being intrinsically tied to tightening government regulations and sizable subsidies. But it’s not going to help sales when a large percentage of the population feels like alternative-energy powertrains are being forced into their respective driveways. Again, these aren’t problems that are unique to Volkswagen. It just happens to be one of the first legacy automakers to stake its entire future on going electric with a strong emphasis on cutting-edge software. Someone probably should have told the company that it’s unwise to declare victory before the battle has begun. VW is now playing catch up while the whole world takes note of its lackluster progress and really only has itself to blame.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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30 Comments on “Volkswagen Board Displeased With Current Software Situation...”

  • avatar

    Attention Car Makers….
    I use my iPad on my couch…you know, not moving.
    My car is usually moving…and there, a dedicated knob or button is much easier, you know, WHILE DRIVING.

    Just drove FIL’s car yesterday, CUE. When you need to take your eyes off the road to adjust the HVAC fan, it’s a design fail…never mind change a radio station.

    Touch screens are not a replacement for all the things. Knobs and buttons for heat/AC/fan, radio volume and station. I know the touchscreen is probably cheaper and one part instead of eight parts but driving, not gadgeting, is your primary focus. German cars are all quite good now at having most of the controls on the wheel, and buttons to boot, probably an EU regulation.

    I’m just salty every time I have to drive the car with CUE…..

    • 0 avatar

      “When you need to take your eyes off the road to adjust the HVAC fan, it’s a design fail…never mind change a radio station.”

      In fairness, you have to do that on cars that don’t have touchscreen systems as well. But I agree with you – making those functions part of screen “menus” is distracting as hell.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes! Touch screen never for fan speed, radio functions. Try changing the band am to fm or xm. then changing the setting. You offer your life up to chance every time. FAIL !!!

        2- Some cars have a little 1/2″ shelf or rib running along the bottom of the touchscreen. Smart – good car makers do this. Put your thumb on the ledge – index finger to touch the screen. This steadies the finger and reduces mis strikes. Simple really. I drove a Forester recently. It helped tremendously.

        3- Another VW story. I just can not buy one.

    • 0 avatar

      Speedlaw, well stated and fully correct. Touch screen everything was a contributing factor to my selling my Chevy Volt, which was in most other respects an excellent car.

    • 0 avatar

      Speedlaw, well stated and fully correct. Touch screen everything was a contributing factor to my selling my Chevy Volt, which was in most other respects an excellent car.

      • 0 avatar

        TTAC, you have used that silly picture way too many times already. Enough with the easy and lazy way out!
        Seriously, there has GOT to be another picture that brings VW to mind available somewhere.

  • avatar

    I’d love to do an eye tracking study of the B&B to see if they rarely or never look at the HVAC controls while adjusting them. My bet is they always do and all these complaints about the lack of buttons are simply not valid.

    The idea that drivers in general even the B&B are laser focused on driving while adjusting everything in the cabin? I’m not buying it.

    • 0 avatar

      What takes more time – looking down to fiddle with the fan or temperature with standard controls, or the new system VW is putting on the MK8 Golf and the new EV models? Here’s a video of how the new system works – it’s pretty clear what the answer here is:

      I’ve tried out myself, and it sucks to use when the car’s sitting still, so using it while in motion would prove distracting as hell.

      Not all of these new infotainment systems are this bad, but VW’s is.

      • 0 avatar

        Freed old buddy…
        In the video, did we all notice how many times the narrator selected an icon, the screen 1/2 accepted it, then went back to the original screen. Like it wouldnt engage. Can you imagine how AGRIVATING and dnagerous that would be on the road.

        Massive fail. Do not buy under any circumstances.

        • 0 avatar

          And it’s a shame – the new GTI is apparently one hell of a good drive. The only touchscreen on my GLI is for radio and CarPlay. The radio is intuitive and isn’t much different than an “analog” unit, and CarPlay is minimally intrusive.

          FYI…I’m on my third VW now, and no major issues with any of ’em. But I’m with you…I wouldn’t buy the GTI with that crap infotainment system. Now, the configurable gauges I could work with…

    • 0 avatar

      Scion xA. 3 simple knobs. no looking needed. one button on the wheel for radio/bluetooth streaming/CD/ USB stick.

    • 0 avatar

      Climate controls need 3 knobs.

      1. Temperature
      2. How much air?
      3. Where do you want it?

      The last car I owned to have that was a 2008 GTI. I could make the car comfortable in any weather without taking my eyes off the road.

      My current cars have all the climate functions buried in touchscreen menus and it sucks.

      And no – auto climate control is not the answer – that sucks too.

      • 0 avatar

        Spot on. Exactly.

        • 0 avatar

          My 2005 Avalon recently started blowing not-cold-enough air from the driver side of the dash, but the vent right next to it had cold air. My initial thought: It can *make* cold air, so it’s not a fundamental a/c issue, it’s the control system, let’s dig deeper.

          Ran across a Factory Repair Manual on CD-ROM a a couple years ago at a reasonable price and ordered it ‘just to have’ — where did we leave it? Here it is.

          The “Air Conditioning” section is 194 pages long. Oh good.

          It uses “Neural Network Control” (“This control is capable of effecting complex control by artificially simulating the information processing method of nervous system of living organisms in order to establish a complex input/output relationship that is similar to a human brain.” Great. Wonderful. (Fuzzy logic means fuzzy troubleshooting.)

          The climate control has its own self-diagnosis system with its own trouble codes and a test mode that you can enter by pressing the correct magic sequence of buttons on the dash. Well that’s cool.

          No ‘codes’ stored (we think – we’ve never done this before and have never seen exactly how a displayed code would appear), and the suspect driver-side servo does its thing perfectly through the full range of travel while in test mode.

          Hmmmm. Thinking cap. If the system thinks it is working correctly, perhaps it is getting improper inputs from the environment? Time to throw parts (always irresistible impulse).

          Order three sensors (online from a Toyota dealer at a reasonable price). Wait and ponder. (Yes I fully intend to drive this vehicle through Death Valley at some point, so the answers matter.)

          Parts show up in mailbox. Walk don’t run to vehicle in driveway. Replace ‘room temperature’ (vehicle cabin) sensor. No change. Replace ‘ambient temperature’ sensor (which we knew was good anyway because the ambient temperature reading was reasonable). No change (of course). Those were easy to reach — third one is buried in the dash. Start to disassemble dash. Brain engages. No fasteners disturbed.

          Grab the manifold gauge set, some leak sealer and a fresh can of R-134a (thankfully purchased in 2020 at a reasonable price) and my old temperature and pressure notes. Add part of the can (those California self-sealing cans really do work!). Problem solved. (Why the side-to-side issue when we were just low on refrigerant? Who knows. Head-scratcher, that.)

          TL;DR: Is my car too smart for its own good, or does it have just the right level of intelligence?

          • 0 avatar

            The cold refrigerant enters the evaporator from the passenger side of the car. By the time it flows to the driver’s side of the evaporator, it has warmed up. Hence why the air coming out of one vent is colder than the other. With proper charge, there is enough cold refrigerant that the entire evaporator gets cold.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t buy cars without auto climate control. Under any normal circumstances the only climate control settings I ever change are the temperature and the defrost function. I will know where the temp control knob or buttons are by feel within an hour or two of being in a new car, and certainly in any car I own. Having that control buried in a menu would be a deal-breaker for me.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought that there was a requirement, at least in the US, for a dedicated button or switch someplace on the center stack to turn on the front defroster. I remember that was pointed out when Buick came out with the touchscreen in the 1986+ Riviera and Reatta.

        Apparently not anymore! I sincerely hope that the voice recognition in the VW is at least somewhat decent. (Honda’s sucks, and always will!)

        Too bad there isn’t a way to control climate through the CarPlay or AndroidAuto, as Siri voice recognition is head and shoulders over most of the native vehicle systems!

        • 0 avatar

          Thanks for the laugh. Voice recognition is the most worthless thing ever introduced to the modern software business. It never works for me. I mean never, as in it might recognize *something* but seldom the correct thing you wanted, and god help you if you try something that isn’t in its dictionary of approved syntax. It is so flaky that I have given up even trying to make it work because it just doesn’t. So if you have a Nav system, you are forced to default to trying to enter an address or a name via a touchscreen, which is highly frustrating as well. The main issue is that vehicles have so much complexity in them now (no longer just heat/defrost/temp/fan) that there is no way around that regardless of the interface.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting, in my experience any automatic climate control system I’ve owned has worked very well. Set the temp and forget it, whatever the season. All these systems also allowed manual operation if you want.

  • avatar

    Very well written piece. VW has so many issues between all the cost cutting found inside and the half baked tech, I would never buy a VW product especially there I.D. garbage

  • avatar

    “But even this assumes there will be widespread acceptance of EVs among the middle-and-lower classes.”

    How many of them are new car buyers? If affluent new car buyers* flock to EVs then the middle and lower classes will have no choice in the matter.

    * “New-vehicle average transaction prices (ATPs) increased to $46,526 in April 2022, “

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with marketing only to the wealthy is that there are only so many of them. If only the top 1% wealthiest people buy cars, and even then only about 1/2 of them are of car-buying age, and they only shop every 2-3 years, then my napkin calc says annual new car sales in the USA will drop to something like 550k to 800k units. Expand it to the top 10%, and assume they shop every 4-5 years, and annual new car sales in the USA will still only hit 4-5 million units.

      In a world where carmakers are used to a market of around 16 million units, a market of 4-5 million units would cause absolute chaos. Would VW be able to manage while getting its traditional 2.5% slice of a much smaller pie?

      For an auto industry “as we know it” to exist in this country, the unwashed masses need something affordable. Some people don’t want an auto industry as we know it, but I doubt that many insiders at current carmakers are in that group.

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Wade

      I submit there will be rather large resistance to buying used EVs, especially ones with higher mileage.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it will be the opposite. You’ll trade unknowns about the condition of a ICE powertrain for something that you can know: the state of the battery. The state of the battery will be a major factor in establishing EV values just like mileage. Vehicles with suffering batteries will be much cheaper, and there will be plenty of buyers for them at the right price. Beyond the battery, the rest of an EV powertrain should be much more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      Well with the high fuel prices that are part of a “necessary transition” will they be given much choice?

  • avatar

    In contrast, the touchscreen on my wife’s new Mercedes B180 works flawlessly fine. Quick, responsive and no software bugs. The regular Wi-Fi updates to the system must also help.

  • avatar

    I’ve had my new VW ID.4 since November. The poor software design, almost untenable performance, and electrical glitches tied to software which affect a myriad of systems, from passenger-side airbag to door locks which just don’t work properly, are all just ridiculous! I love my ID.4 for the way that it drives. It is really good. However, the software is so bad in this thing that there’s no way that it should have ever been released to production in this state. Its absolutely infuriating, and at times its dangerous. This is my 7th VW/Audi in a row and in general you could say that I’ve been a huge fan and extremely loyal customer. However, if they don’t fix this situation then it might be my last VW/Audi purchase.

  • avatar

    Software is “hard,” and utterly different from the rest of automotive engineering. There are a few organizations recognized as “good at software,” including Apple, Google, and Facebook. I suppose Tesla’s software is also pretty good (setting aside Tesla’s reliance on touchscreens).

    VW cheated on diesel emissions because their CEO told the software folks “You will make this work, on my schedule, or you will be replaced. Understand?” Given the choice of getting bad job reviews followed by termination, the SW folks decided to cheat. And cheating *worked*, for a while. We all know how that worked out for Herr Winterkorn and VW.

    Fast forward to today; VW has apparently never developed the necessary corporate culture to create good software, and it’s still showing. If you treat your programmers as a disposable, necessary evil, this is what you get.

    (Disclaimer: I work in software, albeit not automotive software.)

  • avatar

    The irony is VW was renowned for it’s HVAC simplicity. The MKIV models were robust, simple controls that worked extremely well. How the mighty have fallen. The big problem with the big manufacturers as they go into EV’s, they look for the path. Nobody wants to go too wild because that doesn’t sell. So, who’s the leader in EV’s. Tesla. Ok, do that. Large screen because that is what everyone wants, right? Glass roofs. If Tesla comes out with another innovation to their designs it’ll be slavishly followed because none of the others have confidence in their own direction.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Those who owned air cooled VW’s laugh at your modern HVAC concerns.

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