back to article Software issues cost Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess his job

Failure to turn around Volkswagen's software unit seems to have cost CEO Herbert Diess his job in the latest struggle to see the German carmaker modernize its organization. Herbert Diess (left) drives a 1928 Bugatti (with navigator Jon Drechsler on the right) in the 2019 Mille Miglia in Florence, Italy. Herbert Diess (left) …

  1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Really?

    "You can't lead on software with automotive people."

    Imagine the firm-ware of your anti-skid braking system to be as error-free (I am joking here) as your typical produce of the Silicon Valley.

    I don't mind Windows falling over itself (in fact I do, but on a different level),

    however, I would mind vital cruise control software (e.g. lane keeping) falling over.

    But, I am merely a risk-averse old-Continental, who isn't fully sold on the idea of becoming a casualty in someone else's beta test.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Cariad has to be much faster to deploy basically on a weekly basis"

    As opposed to when it's ready, fully tested and good to go?

    How about concentrating on the basics what makes it go and what makes it stop without all the fiddly bits that should be the driver's concern but end up as distractions?

    1. Oh Matron!

      I sat here thinking "Weekly, huh, that will be agile...."

      And then realised how much of a muppet I'd been: Agile would be, quite possibly, the very worst methodology for development for this use case

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Given your understanding of "agile", you'd be right.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Yes, that philosophy seems a likely cause for the utter crap of their latest "infotainment" software, which appears to have been designed by someone who knows smartphones but has never driven a car.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Considering the myriad security and other failures of auto irritainment systems over the past several years, it appears that no one is capable of producing a decent one.

        Of course, in my opinion, the decision to go with touchscreens means they're all doomed to be unusable rubbish anyway.

      2. Youngone Silver badge

        The infotainment system on my Hyundai, in contrast seems to have been designed by someone who has heard about smartphones, but has never used one.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Room for Improvement

          You wanna try using the voice control feature in my BMW. It appears to have been trained using the vocalisations of an angry wookie, as the only time I get any response is when my exasperation leads me to growl like Chewbacca. Even then it misunderstands and replies with nonsense.

          Yet, I only have to enable Apple Car Play and everything works perfectly.

          I don't know if the rest of the auto software landscape is as bad, but If BMW is anything to go by, there is considerable room for improvement.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      That stood out to me too

      I don't want my car running software that is deployed weekly. They think it needs a new version more often than Chrome and Firefox?

      I don't want "patch Tuesday" in my car every week, and wonder if next time I start it a bug will have the radio at full blast, or they'll update the UI and the speedometer will change color because some design consultant told them having a calming color for the speedometer would discourage driving too fast.

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: That stood out to me too

        Same here, which is why I'm building my own. The way I'm buildingniy, when EVs are viable, converting it to electric will almost be a bolt-in job. Viable means solving the multi-hour recharge problem and getting infrastructure in place so I can charge on the road like I can buy fuel today.

        1. chriskno

          Re: That stood out to me too

          Fast chargers are readily available today (have a look at Gridserve), albeit for high end models at the moment. The development of EVs, batteries and charging technologies is moving very quickly. Two other places to look are Fully Charged on YouTube and zap-map.com.

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: Fast chargers

            Fast charger availability is a joke. A very bad joke, at EV drivers' expense. Few and far between, if you can find one that's (a) working and (b) isn't already booked or in use.

            EV charging has a loooong way to go before it makes the availability, speed and convenience of a dino-juice fill-up.

            Fast charging is known to shorten battery life. And even if it takes only 30 minutes to charge up, think about how much land use is needed to get the same vehicles per hour throughput of an average petrol station. Then multiply that by the number of petrol stations across the country.

            Think about the stresses on the local grid. Think about the strain on energy generation.

            Fast charging is certainly not the magic bullet you seem to think it is. Let's face it, despite all the EV zeal and evangelism from government, this country is far - very far - from ready for a mass switch to EVs.

            1. Kristian Walsh

              Re: Fast chargers

              Everyone homes in on DC fast-charging because it looks most like the way you fill up a petrol car, but it’s really not how the majority of EV recharging will happen. Private cars spend 95% of their time parked, so given the ubiquity of electrical supply, that parked-time is when they will charge. Any residence with a driveway can use AC home charging at 7kW (rising to 22kW in countries with 3-phase domestic supplies), which is cheaper and more convenient than forecourt charging. AC charging can be rolled out across pay-parking facilities, commercial premises and workplaces too without much techical difficulty. On-street charging is still a challenge, but it’s a very solvable problem: the difficulties are mostly political and commercial, not technological.

              You say filling up with petrol is “convenience”, but is it really? Having the car charge up overnight — or while you do your day’s work— is in a different league when it comes to convenience: just unplug, and go. No wasting your time detouring to a station, or queueing at the till... and it’s cheaper too.

              The only place where fast-charging becomes relevant is for very long distance journeys (exceeding 75% of your battery’s range). But with current capacities, those journeys are very rare. Yes, there are people out there who have to drive more than 200 miles at a go, but they really are outliers. For them, a diesel car is still the best option, but eventually EVs will catch up there too.

              The electrical grid is entirely able to accommodate EVs. Demand on the grid today is not in any way constant, and it has to be able to operate at a peak that is far in excess of the normal loading. Nightly charging actually solves a problem that has plagued electricity generators since Edison’s day: the most efficient way to operate most types of generation is to run them continuously, but demand fluctuates wildly over the day and week, and if you over generate, you have to dump the power.. (Search for “duck curve”, and follow the articles you find to learn more about this topic).

              EVs actually help the grid. They aren’t steady-state dumb-loads, they have intelligence, and are all capable of negotiating with the supply (the charging connector has a serial datacomms link, and the protocols used on it include a Vehicle-to-Grid facility). Right now, you can schedule cars to take electricity at any time of your choosing (to reduce your home bill), but there’s no technological impediment to prevent the electrical utilities and vehicles negotiating their charging periods to react to instantaneous power surpluses in the grid. There’s also the prospect of using your EV battery as a domestic demand buffer, for which the utility will reward you with cheaper electricity.

              Regarding capacity, it might interest you to know that domestic electricty demand peaked in the early 1990s, and has declined since (Datacentres have picked up some of the slack, but not all). A lot of infrastructure was put in place based on that level of demand, and mass adoption of EVs will just bring things back towards those projections.

              But, it’s not like grid infrastructure is immutable once installed. Unless you’re misfortunate enought to live in Texas, the electrical grid is constantly maintained and expanded to meet demand for electricity; and it’s not like a hundred million EVs are just going to wink into existence and plug in next week: the transition will take decades, and decades is long enough to adapt any grid.

              1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

                Re: Fast chargers

                >99% of the country is nowhere near ready to charge at home or at work.

                A large percentage of the population has nowhere suitable at home to charge their car(s).

                The majority of workplaces don't have onsite parking. Those that do would face enormous expense to install EV chargers at even half of their spaces. Never mind that the local grid simply would not be able to cope. Ditto for public car parks, railway car parks and on-street parking where the vast majority who drive to work have to park.

                Here's the thing about convenience. If I get in my car at any time of day, for any journey be it planned, unplanned or even an emergency, I am within 5 minutes of multiple petrol stations. I can fill up my car in another 5 minutes and be on my way.

                Unless you're planning to bulldoze an acre of land around each current petrol station to provide enough chargers to match current hourly throughtputs at petrol stations, there's no way EV chargets can provide enough capacity, even if we could build the required quantity before 2030 to 2035 (and we can't).

                And even if somehow that magically did happen, an EV still cannot get to full in anywhere near the time a petrol or diesel car can.

                And now there's the prospect of plugging in your car overnight, then getting up for work only to discover the battery has been drained because of the glory that is "smart charging" and your best laid plans and thinking ahead are killed flat because the grid needed power overnight.

                Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against EVs. They are a great solution for those people with the correct set of circumstances to make it a viable choice.

                But this is certainly not everyone, not even close. There's a signifcant percentage of drivers for whom EVs will never make sense, yet the curent and probably future governments are forcing everyone down that route, whether or not it is actually viable.

                The country is not ready, the grid infrastruction and generation capacity is not ready, most of the driving populace is not ready. And none of that will change in next 10 years without mind-bogglingly vast investment in infrastructure.

                1. DS999 Silver badge

                  Re: Fast chargers

                  A large percentage of the population has nowhere suitable at home to charge their car

                  Everyone who lives in a house with a garage or a private driveway either does, or would after they schedule a visit from an electrician.

                  Sure places where on street parking is your only option don't today, but anywhere that has streetlights already has an electrical line run. Assuming that was run in a conduit, a higher capacity line can be pulled through. A few places in the block you'd to install a charger, which would have cables able to connect to multiple cars in the area and manage their charging via policies set from the car (i.e. one car needs to be fully charged by 5am because its owner leaves early, the other by noon because its owner works from home, etc.)

                  The catch is that you don't install chargers everywhere when electric cars are rare, so you'd start by installing one every few blocks and mark them "electric cars only". When electric car owners needed to charge they'd have to park in one of those spots and maybe walk a few blocks to their house, but most of the time they could park as they do now (i.e. no point in charging nightly if you are only using 10% of your battery in a daily commute) As more electric cars are registered in an area, more chargers are installed. A slight surcharge on the electricity put into the cars pays for their installation and maintenance.

                  These problems are quite solvable. Yes, it will take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, but you don't think the massive infrastructure that supports countless millions of fossil fuel burning cars sprung up overnight, do you? You don't think all the roads they use to travel on were built without a fortune in tax dollars, do you?

                  I'll bet a lot of people said the exact same thing when cars started replacing carriages. Do you really expect every little village to have a place to buy gasoline? Where are all these cars going to be kept when not in use, you'll have to widen the street if everyone wants to leave them outside their house! Who is going to repair all these cars, are blacksmiths and farriers expected to learn how they work? Etc. etc.

                  1. Cuddles Silver badge

                    Re: Fast chargers

                    "Everyone who lives in a house with a garage or a private driveway either does, or would after they schedule a visit from an electrician."

                    Yes, that's exactly the point. Home charging is great for the minority of people who have private parking, but the majority of people in the UK are lucky if they're even able to park on the same street as their house.

                    "These problems are quite solvable. Yes, it will take a lot of time and cost a lot of money"

                    Again, that's exactly the point. Very few people are saying that it's impossible for electric cars to ever be practical. But there's a very big difference between "Fast chargers are readily available today" - the comment that started this topic - and "It can be solved in the future given lots of time and money".

                    The difference between the situation now and early cars replacing horses is that people weren't facing the prospect of a nationwide horse ban just a few years away, while car proponents insisted that the entire necessary infrastructure had already been built. Electric cars are unquestionably the future, but the future is not now. Ranges are short, charging is slow and inconvenient, the infrastructure is woefully inadequate, and most people in the UK cannot just do it themselves at home. Yes, we can fix all of these issues. But we haven't yet, so seeing people constantly insisting everything is already fine really isn't helpful.

                    1. DS999 Silver badge

                      Re: Fast chargers

                      No one is saying electric cars have to be a possibility for everyone at once. Even if you reach a point in 2035 or whatever when all new cars you can buy are electric the majority of cars on the road won't be until years later. If you make a few percent of progress with the infrastructure every year starting now you'll keep up with the few percent more of electric cars on the road every year.

    4. JoeCool

      What you're missing is

      that these would be internal releases, needed during development of the car. No software = no operational testing.

    5. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
      Devil

      What's in a name?

      I parsed out the name of their software group as "Cariad" <-- Carry Ad(vertising).

      It's not easy writing software to monitor mutiple audio and video data streams for indicators of brand disloyalty, selecting appropriate remedial multimedia influence packages, and effectively presenting them to the (l)user!

  3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Not just software

    Industry insiders have commented that failure to get Cariad back on track is a major contributor to Diess's departure.

    Partly, though that was after years of all the German car companies sticking their heads in the sand safe in the knowledge that the German government would keep them safe from any nasty legislation and let them keep making high margin SUVs. This also meant they could reduce spending on R&D not only on EVs but also on alternatives fuel cells.

    But the main cause for the departure was the usual one with VW: failure to get agreement with the works council on cost cutting and job losses.

  4. Flak

    Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

    Reading between the lines I wonder if VW is also eyeing up revenue opportunities - because when you sell software, you can charge subscription revenues, can't you?

    Jury is still out, but be warned...

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

      Already exists. A friend of mine has an Audi and she would have to enable subscription to get updated maps for the sat nav. Audi's are the worst because they come with their own software so you can't even use Android Auto.

      SWMBO's Skoda Fabia came with outdated maps last year and the satnav that insisted in giving instructions in English even though everything else was in German. Strangely disoriertating hearing the local place names mangled in a way and English person probably wouldn't! That fortunately got fixed when the car went in for a service. But if you want new maps you need a special SD card that costs € 300 from a dealer, though you can at least update the maps once you've bought it. € 40 for one from Lithuania does the job just as well and at least we know that Android Auto now supports Here.

      Automotive software development and deployment does have a deservedly terrible reputation but when I look at the software industry in general I don't see much "failure is not an option".

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

      The subscription seems to be just a change in how they price. i.e. instead of paying $1000 for heated seats up front, all the cars have heated seats installed to simplify their build process. I haven't seen any indication people are having to pay for the feature and then pay again to use it.

      I'm sure there will be quite a market out there for people hacking the cars to enable features they haven't paid for. Things that are software based like lane keeping or whatever would be very difficult to hack, but I don't see how they can protect heated seats. Sure you couldn't use the car's touchscreen to turn them or whatever, but they are simple resistance heat. It would be simple for any backyard mechanic to run a wire from the fusebox to the seat and install a thermostatically controlled switch you could reach down and flip.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

        Hell, a couple of wires, a relay, and a mechanical timer switch would be adequate. No need even for a thermostat, really. If the seat gets too warm before the timer runs out, turn it off manually; if it isn't warm enough when it does, restart it.

        Software-controlled heated seats are a terrific example of They're Doing It Wrong.

        1. Kristian Walsh

          Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

          You’re thinking of the problem as if the seat heaters were a standalone product, instead of one component of a system where there’s a power and data bus already in place, with a high-performance general-purpose computer attached to that bus. A simple solid-state current driver IC, uniquely addressable on the bus and controlled by the cabin software is far more flexible and cost-efficient than the electo-mechanical system you propose, especially as that part can be mass-produced to suit for any actuator application within any vehicle.

          Also, by having these loads centrally controlled, you can also very closely manage total current draw on the 12 V electrical system, and keeping maximum current down can save you a lot of money.

          If that wasn’t enough reason, there’s the bill of materials: replacing the cost of your timer and relay with a common solid-state part across 4 million units a year is an example of They’re Doing It Right, and that’s before you consider the knock-on costs of maintaining supplies of additional unique parts.

    3. rlightbody

      Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

      My 2017 Golf has a button marked "Voice" that when I push it tells me I need to buy the service.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Stand by for subscription services like the ones BMW recently announced.

        It tells you that audibly? Seems like it's working as described.

        Though this is just one more reason why I will never buy another new automobile. My current one – a 2015 model – still has physical buttons and no touchscreen. It doesn't have phone integration, aside from basic Bluetooth hands-free support, so no phone-home spyware, and no phone-related attack-surface expansion.

        These are things which are generally no longer available in the sorts of vehicles that meet my use cases.

  5. Porco Rosso
    Devil

    Expert in Burning Platform

    Maybe Stephen Elop is the right guy for the job. He create a lot of customer and sharehoulders value...

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Expert in Burning Platform

      Maybe Elop and Leo Apotheker could be co-CEOs? Apotheker knows how to make bold decisions in the software biz, even when it requires ignoring your own senior people and consultants.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Usual mistake

    "They should have headhunted the best people from Silicon Valley," Schmidt said. "You can't lead on software with automotive people."

    I've seen so many organizations do the same mistake: turn an automotive engineer, or a physicist or a mathematician into software devs, usually without the relevant long training, or coaching.

    It usually turns out the people, with no software dev, versioning etc ... background, most of the time, make for terrible devs.

    Code quality and readability is key in industrial dev, you really can't afford someone checking out the wrong version and reverting many commits from version N, and work on version N+1.

    Nor can you afford dev security or reliability issues.

    I'd assume this is the mistake VW did ...

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: Usual mistake

      They should be poaching from Siemens: If there's one company who knows how to do robust, industrial code, it's them

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Usual mistake

      But if they used software engineers then the ABS in each wheel would use a different Javascript framework and the teams working on each would refuse to talk to any of the other wheels because they use a different editor

    3. ChoHag Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: Usual mistake

      > It usually turns out the people, with no software dev, versioning etc ... background, most of the time, make for terrible devs.

      They'll feel right at home.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Germans were never great at software

    Take SAP for example.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: The Germans were never great at software

      Fair enough but then look at how many companies did. Then look at the competition, if you can find it before they've bought it up.

  8. lglethal Silver badge

    Agile, no?

    Move fast and break things, right?

    Oh wait. Maybe not...

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Agile, no?

      "Agile", properly executed, is the continuous, deliberate search for better ways to do things. A proper agile process won't look the same for two different companies, and will be entirely different between different industries.

      1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

        Re: Agile, no?

        Whilst I agree with your post it seems to suffer from the assumption that agile is a good way of doing things.

      2. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        Re: Agile, no?

        Agile is an industry that is designed to make money for consultants and coaches.

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    deploy basically on a weekly basis and to be attractive for software talent

    I've found those 2 things to be mutually exclusive. True software talent is allergic to being shoehorned into forced weekly shipping deadlines. This shows that they still have a production line mentality, thinking that x units of software should roll out of the software factory every week.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: deploy basically on a weekly basis and to be attractive for software talent

      If people define Agile in such a way, yes. But for many companies, production deploys several times a day is actually good.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: deploy basically on a weekly basis and to be attractive for software talent

        The number of people in the industry who utterly fail to understand even the most basic aspects of Agile is impressive. But then software development is notorious for a culture resistant to outside ideas ("outside" meaning "I didn't think of it, and neither did anyone I personally have decided to endorse for no particularly good reason").

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: deploy basically on a weekly basis and to be attractive for software talent

      In a properly-run Agile process, it doesn't matter if there are regularly-scheduled deployments, because deployment will be the most current fully-tested version. That might be the same as the last deployment. Developers push changes to testing when they've been reviewed and accepted (by the team, possibly by other stakeholders, depending on the product, feature, and process); when stuff comes out of testing and goes into production is the responsibility of the release or operations team, not developers.

      Developers generally shouldn't even care when changes make it into production. They're there to implement features and fix defects. Getting enhancements and fixes to software consumers is the responsibility of a release or operations team.

      If developers have to hit production deadlines then it's not proper Agile, but some half-assed failure to understand the concept.

      1. Falmari Silver badge

        Re: deploy basically on a weekly basis and to be attractive for software talent

        @Michael Wojcik "when stuff comes out of testing and goes into production is the responsibility of the release or operations team"

        How does the release or operations team decide when stuff comes out of test and into production?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This article is a great piece

    …of fiction. :(

    Unions (esp. IG Metall) are not mentioned even once?

    As mentioned since last year in both German ands international media, the union's decided to bury their heads in the sand when Diess pointed out that the industry's move to electrification as well as technological and economic realities meant that 30K jobs are in for the chop.

    That's not great news, of course, but it feels like they decided to shoot the messenger rather than try and work out ways in which those workers could reconvert or transition to other parts of the economy while they still can.

    I feel bad for the workers that they have such shit unions. Those jobs will be lost one way or another and the company may well become a relic of the past, the way many once powerful companies have gone.

    1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

      Re: This article is a great piece

      But we keep getting told that the German union approach is the right one and we should copy it here in the UK.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This article is a great piece

        Like everything, it has good and bad aspects. In this case, putting a big chunk of the country's economy at the mercy of IG Metall leaders is not exactly one of the good aspects (not that Mr Scholz & co are doing any better, mind).

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: This article is a great piece

          Frankly, I'd take the German implementation of unions and workers councils over the "ha ha fuck you, employees!" approach we have in the US. (And, yes, I have belonged to a union, and dealt with them.) But, y'know, freeeeeedom!

  11. pip25
    FAIL

    Sadly unsurprising

    As long as someone in the food chain keeps pulling those deadlines out of their nether regions, software development will continue to suffer at VW. (Something tells me it's not the developers themselves.)

    Latest example: level 4 self-driving by 2025. You know, the same level basically no one has achieved yet? Surely VW have thought this through? Oh wait, of course not.

  12. rlightbody

    Every single review of the VW Golf mk8 has heavily criticised the on-board electronics, and compared them negatively to the previous version of the car, which is just incredible. Here are some of the issues noted in the software :-

    Slowness - apparently the software was written for more powerful hardware than the car is actually equipped with...

    Crashing of the infotainment completely, with a subsequent delayed reboot.

    Crucial Features buried under layers of slow menus

    Lane keep assist and speed warnings that read speed signs as KPH instead of MPH, and mix up left hand drive and right hand drive - has caused to brake at the wrong times, and to take lane actions incorrectly.

    But the final straw for most people seems to be the almost complete removal of physical controls, which then means the electronics have to work faultlessly.

    So much to learn from this about how not to do things...

    1. JT_3K

      Living with a Mk7.5 Golf, things aren't perfect but at least they're better. However, the "crash warning assistant" has gone off loudly 4x whilst I've driven it over the past 9mths, quite the feat when I drive it once or twice a week. This irremovable "feature" screams at huge volume whilst lighting up the dashboard like a Christmas tree, usually during a moment when someone appears apt to cut you up or whilst braking *slightly* more than normal on a motorway. In doing so, it provides something else for the human brain to process at precisely the worst possible moment, often without cause but most irritatingly (once, when it had potential reason to recognise a worsening situation) being sufficiently interrupting that it could actually *cause* the incident to become an accident.

      I note that the "collision avoidance systems" on BMWs in circa 2017 were so invasive and poor that the SCCA actually banned models from on-racetrack events at the time because these could not be turned off.

      If these things are worse in the modern versions, god help anyone who buys a recent car.

  13. TaabuTheCat

    His mistake was pointing out the elephant

    Diess simply couldn't ignore the fact that Toyota produces more cars each year that all of the Group, with HALF the employees. He pissed off the unions with the hard truth and was done. The problem won't go away. VW needs to address the disparity, with or without Diess.

  14. Potemkine! Silver badge

    What I like in my old bike? Except for the ignition there's no electronic in it and I can repair all by myself. No DRM, no subscription, no monthly/weekly/daily update. With many suppliers for spare parts, I'm not locked in any way with the brand owner. I fear it will be my last motorized vehicle in that case.

    the 2015 VW emissions-cheating scandal before they were settled by the company for as much as billions of dollars – with no admission of liability.

    No admission of liability should not be possible. A settlement should embed such an admission. If not, it means you're never guilty if you're rich enough.

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