“We live in a historically significant period”

The automotive industry is currently facing the largest challenge in its 130 years of history in the form of digitalisation: the role played by vehicles is now changing from that of a means of transport to that of a mobile device that uses cloud systems to connect with other vehicles and devices that are able to communicate as the "Internet of Things". The success of a new vehicle is becoming increasingly dependent on the extent to which it can be smoothly integrated into the individual lives of its customers. At today's International Automotive Congress held by the company Wolfsburg AG in Wolfsburg, around 300 participants discussed the opportunities provided by the digitalisation of mobility and how the digital transformation can achieve success along the automotive value chain.

When welcoming the congress visitors from all over Europe, Julius von Ingelheim, the Spokesman of the Board of Wolfsburg AG, underlined the special complexity and range of the digitalisation of mobility, stating that "both manufacturers and suppliers are facing the same challenge of needing to fundamentally rethink their current production and sales models." After the welcome speeches by Klaus Mohrs, the Mayor of Wolfsburg, and Wilhelm Dresselhaus, a Member of the Executive Board of Bitkom e.V. and the Spokesman of GF Nokia Deutschland, speakers provided an insight into the nature and scope of the radical transformation of the automotive industry that will be completed on a global level over the next few years. The congress was hosted by Ralf Brettig, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the trade magazines "automotiveIT" and "carIT", and Dirk Reusch, the Publishing Manager at Media-Manufaktur GmbH, both of whom are proven experts when it comes to the connection between IT and mobility.

The industry is reinventing itself

"We are living in a historically important era in which we have the opportunity to play a significant role in the reinvention of automobiles and mobility", declared Johann Jungwirth, Volkswagen's Chief Digital Officer and the patron of the congress, as he introduced the main topic of the event. According to Jungwirth, the disruption of the automotive industry with regard to digitalisation (from a driven to a self-driving vehicle), sustainability (from a combustion engine to an electric power system) and urbanisation (from ownership to shared mobility) will lead to fundamental changes to the world as we know it. "Our aim is to further develop the Volkswagen Group from an automotive manufacturer to one of the world's leading providers of sustainable mobility, as well as to democratise mobility", declared Johann Jungwirth. He went on to explain that this includes transforming Volkswagen from a hardware company into an integrated hardware, software and service company. "Establishing our new business area for mobility services as the 13th brand of the Volkswagen Group is a significant step towards our future as a company", he added.

Cars as mobile devices

"Cars are mobile living environments. Our customers simply expect to also be able to use certain online functions in their vehicles", stated Dr Olaf Dübel, the Head of New Projects for the VW Car-Net, MIB and Sound Systems in the Volkswagen Group, who gave a presentation on "Digital Innovations for New Mobility".

Nevertheless, there is still plenty to be done on the path towards achieving piloted driving. This was demonstrated by Thomas Müller, the Head of Development for Braking, Steering and Driving Assistance Systems at Audi AG in his presentation on "Opportunities and Risks on the Journey towards Piloted Driving": "A great deal still needs to be done on both a technological level and in terms of society and legal matters. Nevertheless, these technologies make a strong contribution towards achieving safety, time savings, comfort and convenience."

Big data and new models for vehicle use

In the topic group of "Intelligent Mobility – Strategies of Successful Suppliers and Service Providers", Dr Jan Wehinger, Senior Manager at the company Mieschke Hofmann and Partner (MHP), drew attention to the changing business models involved in the digitalisation of mobility. "Autonomous vehicle fleets, some of which are shared among different users, make completely new concepts of ownership, use and service conceivable", stated Dr Wehinger. Autonomous vehicles provide customers with useful time frames, which in turn creates scope for new services in vehicles. Companies now can and, indeed, need to develop and explore these services.

The congress paid a great deal of a attention to the topic of "big data", namely the use of large data volumes from a variety of different sources with a high processing speed. Big data is used in applications such as the creation of real-time road maps. "Maps that are precise down to the nearest centimetre are essential for fully automated driving", emphasised Christof Hellmis, the Vice-President of the map service HERE, which launched its HD Live Map at the beginning of the year. This map provides lane-specific information on the road network, roadworks or accidents and is automatically updated. "When vehicles synchronise the data recorded by their sensors with these map data, they are able to precisely identify their own position and look further ahead than was ever possible before", explained Hellmis.

Fully networked vehicles that are individualised to the largest possible extent formed the focus of the presentation on "My Car 4.0" given by Gernot Joswig. The official representative of the company ITConcepts Automotive, which is based in Wolfsburg, stated that "we are working on solutions that facilitate individual and intermodal mobility within changing patterns of use." This extends the personal driving experience available to users and helps to secure a constant data exchange for needs-based added-value services. Digital identities are not only essential for this personalisation of vehicles, but also when it comes to enabling vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and local traffic infrastructures, as well as for future-oriented assistance functions.

Data network security

Digital data are everywhere, but who actually owns them and how can possession of these data be secured in a digital world in order to guarantee sustainable economic activity? This and many other questions were explored by Heinrich Pettenpohl from the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and System Technology (ISST) in his presentation on "Industrial Data Space – Digital Sovereignty of Data and Services". He presented the industrial data space as a virtual data environment that supports a secure exchange of data and the simple linkage of data in business ecosystems on the basis of standards and with the support of shared governance models. Pettenpohl went on to explain that as a result, partners in a value chain could mutually agree to be able to access specific data that help them to develop new business models or make their own processes more efficient.

The event was brought to a close by Thomas Krause, a Member of the Board of Wolfsburg AG, who declared that: "the International Suppliers Fair, which has established itself as the leading trade fair in the automotive industry over the past 15 years, is the ideal event for inspiring and initiating value-added processes in this industry." His words kicked off the IZB 2016, at which around 800 exhibitors from 32 different countries will showcase their new product innovations in Wolfsburg between 18th and 20th October.