There is a strange reason behind how the thought process that led to this article came about. I had just started my car and was about to back out of the garage when my infotainment screen popped up with “Over the air update successful.” I didn’t have to go into the dealership and get a USB stick stuck into one of the ports to update the infotainment, it simply used my phone and my wireless internet to download and apply an update. I thought nothing of it at the time, but it stuck in my mind how convenient it was to be able to do live updates on in-car systems.
A few days later, I was sitting at my computer, writing an article about the future of racing being electric and how Porsche is leading that charge, and that triggered the thought “If electric cars don’t need oil changes and the like, how will they be serviced?” The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that with less moving parts, and more computer power, is it realistic to think that service appointments are a thing of the past? I am writing this article to tackle that very question.
The Current Standard: Dealership & Specialist Servicing
Anyone that has bought a new car since pretty much the invention of the automobile knows that for the first few years, you get oil changes and tire rotation servicing “for free” as a little value-add to get you to sign on that dotted line. Even after the free period ends, many will keep having their cars serviced regularly at the dealerships, as it adds value to have a service history for any potential sale of the car.
While there are those out there that enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon under the hood, getting their hands dirty and wrenching away, in today’s non-stop-go-go-go world, convenience of having someone else do it is a determining factor for many. This has seen the rise of a new type of service garage, namely those that are specialists in one or two makes of vehicles, and are certified with the manufacturer to provide the same level of service as the dealership mechanics.
We all know the process: Either you call in to book a service appointment, or the dealership calls and reminds you that you’re coming up on the next service timeframe based on your last service. You drive to the dealership, into the service bay, and go through the process of booking it in, getting a taxi/uber/public transit to work, and when you come back at the end of the day, voila, your car has been serviced.
It’s a bit different with supercars, though. While the dealership does have a service bay, quite often they will refer you to a specialist garage that not only is good with the brand, but may be the best in town for your specific model. As well, because supercars often have air dams, venturi tunnels, diffusers, and aerodynamic devices under the engine, it can take a while to disassemble the car to be able to get to the oil filter to do the oil change. This usually means that the garage can take a couple of days to do the service, but it will do everything including updating firmware, oil changes, tire rotations, the whole nine yards.
However, there is the unofficial Green Promise that has been joined by multiple supercar and sports car manufacturers around the world that was started in the VW Group. The premise is that between 2030 and 2040, all cars of a manufacturer will be made in a net-zero-carbon manner, and the cars themselves will either be electrically powered or use sustainable fuels such as bioethanol alongside hybrid systems.
A Thought Exercise: A Supercar In 2050
Ten years after the Green Promise ended, with fossil fuels now being relegated to use for classic cars like the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo, a new supercar is launched. It has over 1,000 HP equivalent through its electric motors, and its graphene-layer batteries provide well over 1,000 miles of range in eco mode. It also has the latest and greatest AI technology on board, which allows you to set the car to drive itself while you enjoy the trip, or optionally, you can do the driving while the computer keeps an eye out all around you.
Of course, being the wealthy person you are, you buy one, and in the first month of ownership you put on a few thousand miles, some of them you, some of them automated. In the past, such as the 2020s, you would have to bring your supercar in after 3,000 miles so that the factory oil could be switched out to some new, often synthetic, oil. Those old engines had hundreds of moving parts, it’s no wonder they needed to be lubricated constantly!
However, in your 2050 supercar, once you hit 3,000 miles, your motors and batteries are sufficiently cycled in and the car unlocks its full power mode. It does this by sending a request through the ultrafast internet, and once the main server back at the manufacturer’s HQ verifies that the file that came with the request has all the right markers and milestones, it beams back a new ECU profile. This, of course, happens without you having to even push a single thing on the touchscreen dash.
When you plug in your supercar before going to bed, the computers onboard recognized that external power is being provided and apply the new ECU update, as well as any new firmware to the motors, the battery controller, the dash computer, and the like, all while you pull up the sheets and settle in for a good night’s rest. The next morning, when you sit in your supercar, the dash greets you with “Congratulations, full power mode unlocked!”
Moving forward three years, you’ve logged tens of thousands of miles in your supercar, and the AI onboard has been tracking the efficiency of each independent wheel motor, as well as the charge cycles on the battery. It seems like the right rear motor is only operating at 95% efficiency, maybe it needs a firmware refresh? If that doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to have a specialist come out to your home and switch out the motor, which, because of the modular design of modern cars, shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
The purpose of this thought exercise was to think about how the issues faced by electric vehicles today, in the dawn of the EV age, will most likely be solved in 30 years time. The same happened in 30 years with the internal combustion engine car, going from a single horsepower car that barely moved faster than a light jog at the turn of the 20th century, to cars with massive inline sixes and eights with superchargers that could produce speeds that defied belief at over 100 miles per hour!
Much like how that entire revolution of the internal combustion engine brought about the car servicing industry, consideration has to be put towards what a mechanic of the future might be. It would probably be more akin to a computer technician today, who if they find a bad RAM stick or a hard drive that is wearing out, they replace it and the computer resumes working normally.
Also, whatever device you’re reading this article on, when was the last time you manually updated it? Even on the most inexpensive notebook computer or smartphone, it has become the standard that you expect the device to update itself automatically. Sure, it means you might have to wait 15 more seconds when you boot up your notebook, but storage is so fast these days that several gigabytes of data can be written in those 15 seconds while you sigh heavily and tell your coworkers that your computer is being slow.
Much the same can be thought of as the future of servicing, not just for supercars or hypercars, but for all cars. While there will always be something that needs to be manually performed on an EV, with the removal of the biggest cause of most services, the internal combustion engine, servicing might become the same as updating your computer. Simply leave it running, plugged in, and while you sleep, the car automatically services itself.
Over The Air Servicing: Not Just A Thought Exercise
The other half of what prompted me to write this article is a little news piece that I just happened to catch as I was scrolling through my daily social media checks a few weeks ago. To many, it would seem inconsequential and they would simply scroll past, but because I was already thinking about how EVs will be serviced in the future, the news piece caught my attention. It is regarding a small, fairly unknown company called Tesla…
It’s from PC Gamer, and it’s about the fact that the CPUs put into the 2021+ Model S, X, Y, and 3 cars, AMDs special Ryzen APU for Tesla, were overheating and causing the touchscreens to glitch out. This affected nearly 130,000 cars, which is an utter nightmare when you have to issue a recall or send out a technical bulletin to dealerships to have people bring their cars into have the issue fixed.
Instead of that, Tesla wrote and is now implementing a patch for your car that will download, and change the issue that was causing the overheating, which is that the car’s liquid cooling controller was prioritizing the batteries and leaving the CPUs with minimal cooling. The patch will ensure that the CPUs will receive adequate cooling at all times, while also allowing the liquid cooling controller to shift cooling to whatever is needed.
While there will be a notification of this “recall” coming in the mail to owners by July 1st, the truth is that if you own one of the affected models, it’s highly likely that the patch has already downloaded and applied itself without you needing to lift a finger. Simple, seamless, tiny by today’s data usage rates, and you probably wouldn’t have even noticed if not for a letter in the mail and an article about it online.
This is not to say that some hands-on work won’t be needed. The entire modular concept in the thought exercise has already been implemented by Lotus for the Evija hypercar. Each wheel motor is an enclosed unit, with no axle from side to side of the car. That means that if one motor has an issue, the car will both tell the technician which motor it is, and that motor can be replaced as easily as unplugging the old one, lifting it out, putting the new one in, and plugging it in. Despite its gargantuan price tag and cutting edge technology, Lotus kept their creed in mind when designing the car: “Simplify, and add lightness.”