Not Your Father’s Networked Car

NEW YORK — To the world’s largest auto

manufacturer, information technology means cutting manufacturing time to market, creating smarter cars,

shaving internal costs and launching a phenomenal new era in cars, a General Motors information technology executive said.

IT is central to the company, said Tony Scott, chief technology

officer for GM’s Information Systems and Services division. “It’s

everywhere. It’s in our cars, homes, everywhere. So, with all due respect to

Nicholas Carr, IT does matter.” Scott was referring to Carr’s

Harvard Business Review article, “IT Doesn’t Matter,” which continues to

spark debate in the industry over whether information technology has become so commoditized that

it no longer matters.

During a keynote address at the CeBIT America conference here Wednesday,

Scott said networked cars that you manage in much the same way you manage

your desktop computer are a lot closer than we think.

In 1970, a typical GM car contained about 100 lines of code. By 1990, it

was running about 100,000 lines of code. By 2010, predicts Scott, cars will

average about 100 million lines of code.

“And that’s just what OEMs are going to put into cars,” he

said. “Everything of value will be connected to the Internet. That includes


With over 184 million new Ethernet ports and over eight billion

microprocessors shipped in 2003 alone, the implications for cars in this

connected universe are pretty phenomenal, he said.

“We’re already seeing that benefit,” he added, and not only by being able

to do more interesting things while in a car. “It’s about better gas

mileage, handling. And it’s the result of particular software that’s running

in the car.”

Indeed, the use of technology helps explain why software is now the

single biggest cost factor in the production of a car, Scott said. All the

other costs associated with auto manufacturing are dropping, largely because

of information technology that has helped streamline the flow of information across divisions

and shorten production times.

In 1996, GM’s $4 billion IT budget was the largest in the industry. Since

then, the company has cut about $1 billion from that annual spend to

become one of the lowest spenders on IT in the auto industry. One reason for the lower budget is that 100 percent of the company’s IT is outsourced, especially after GM’s

spinout of EDS in 1996.

The result is a very different GM today from the one that used to make

everything that went into the car except the tires. “Today, we’re a much

more collaborative company,” Scott said.

Cutting the costs of legacy systems remains one of his main challenges as

a technology officer for the company. “GM had a reputation for being big and

slow. We’re still big, but I don’t think we’re slow.”

Scott said cheaper sensors installed in cars are changing the game of

auto manufacturing in surprising ways. “That combination you’re going to see

in everything. The ability to detect the environment, what’s going on and

what’s wrong with it, changes the game.”

Take GM’s OnStar GPS system, offered in many high-end and

mid-level cars. Scott said in a typical month, the system transmits about

850 stolen vehicle reports by owners, about 16,000 roadside assistance

requests, 30,000 remote unlocking services and about 23,000 remote

diagnostics for customers. That’s from some 2.5 million subscribers, all of

which represent opportunities each month to “give us quality feedback of

what’s going on with cars. This is only going to grow.”

As for whether auto enthusiasts will still be able to tinker on

today’s sophisticated cars the way Dad used to, Scott said sure — as long as

they’re software engineers.

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