When owners of cars built by Tesla (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report rhapsodize about the many ways they adore their ride, they frequently praise over-the-air software updates that add features or improve their car's performance in the same manner as their phones.
Incumbent carmakers have been slow to integrate OTA software updates into their designs, though that's changing as computers play a bigger and bigger role in every vehicle's functionality. The advent of highly autonomous and driverless technology will necessitate regular OTA updates, just one facet, carmakers said, of robust data flow in and out of the car.
Delphi Automotive (DLPH) - Get Delphi Technologies Plc Report , a top global supply company, has been investing in small digital startups specializing in data management to broaden the capabilities of systems it sells to carmakers. The idea is to manage the blizzard of data flowing through a vehicle, including information sensed by radar and cameras to frequently traveled routes to performance of parts that will soon need replacement.
Mary Gustanski, Delphi vice president of engineering, said, "We can array and scale however much or little the carmaker needs, whether its for a new model or to modify one that has been in production for some time." Incumbent carmakers, she said, don't have the same edge as Tesla, which has designed its models from scratch to incorporate an abundance of computing, software and updating capabilities.
Among the startups allied with Delphi are Israel-based Valens, Israel-based Otonomo, Rosenberger Hochfrequenztechnik , based in Germany, Control-Tec in Allen Park, Mich., and Movimento in Plymouth, Mich.
General Motors (GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report , which has been updating its OnStar communication system OTA since 2009, said that "with 4G LTE (wireless communication) in our vehicles, we are looking at additional opportunities that will give us the capability to upgrade vehicles post-purchase to create more value to our existing customers."
In July, Ford (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report announced it was introducing what it called a new "SYNCH 3 connectivity platform" for its models that in the future will enable "over-the-air updates via Wi-Fi (to) help ensure it keeps up with the latest technology."
Mark Dahncke, a spokesman for Volkswagen's (VLKAY) Audi luxury franchise, said the company currently does "OTA updates for our navigation systems. Other vehicle-specific related updates are planned on future models as of next year."
Notwithstanding OTA updates, owners of Tesla vehicles with AutoPilot self-driving features have sued the automaker in federal court in San Jose, Calif., alleging that the feature is "dangerously defective" when engaged. The lawsuit is asking for class-action status on behalf of 47,000 owners of 2016 and 2017 Model X and Model S vehicles.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.