New connected vehicle tech requires a reboot of OEM supplier relations

A transitioning auto industry that’s becoming exponentially more technology-driven needs to change the way automakers and suppliers work together, according to two executives whose innovative partnership was recognized this year with an Automotive News Pace Award.

Sonatus, a Silicon Valley startup, worked with Hyundai Motor Group to develop Digital Dynamics, a holistic software-defined platform that lives both in the vehicle and in the cloud. The modular, agile and hardware-agnostic platform gave Hyundai a software-defined foundation to manage vehicle behavior, letting engineers harness vehicle data, control and secure vehicle connectivity, and remedy problems without requiring software updates.

But the partnership that made it happen was something special, John Robb, president of the Hyundai America Technical Center, told attendees Monday at the Automotive News Congress.

“Typically, our relationship with a lot of our Tier 1, even Tier 2 suppliers was ‘Here’s the requirements, here’s the spec — take it through procurement.’ That doesn’t work,” Robb explained. “We realized that we just can’t write a purchase request and get something back from somebody; we have to sit down together and really collaborate and integrate together.”

Hyundai’s partnership with Sonatus was mutually beneficial because it allowed the startup to successfully expand into the automotive sector with a trusted guide, said Jeff Chou, CEO and co-founder of Sonatus.

“We had as much to learn about the auto industry because things that we did in another industry weren’t necessarily applicable in the auto industry,” Chou explained, adding that there was a “culture gap” between his startup and Hyundai that had to be overcome. “For the first year, two years, it was really about bringing a marriage together. And we were fortunate that Hyundai was open-minded enough to accept some of our ideas. And we tried to keep an open mind as well, because we had just as much to learn.”

The two executives said that redefining traditional OEM/supplier relationships when it comes to software is vital if both sides are to mutually benefit. That can be as mundane as successfully navigating an automaker’s procurement procedures to as “overwhelming” as staring at what will be millions of lines of code.

Vehicle electronics “get more and more specific””each year, Robb said. “There’s a lot there. It’s not as easy as it was in the past. When you’re talking about millions of lines of code in a vehicle, it gets overwhelming.”

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