Vision Paper: “Open Source Software in the Automotive Industry”

This report written by Johan Linåker of RISE and Astor Nummelin Carlberg of OFE for Eclipse SDV underscores the critical role of Open Source Software (OSS) in advancing the automotive industry, facilitating innovation, development efficiency, and product quality, while stressing the importance of maintaining digital sovereignty and competitive edge amidst the industry’s evolving landscape.

This vision paper, authored by Johan Linåker of the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and Astor Nummelin Carlberg of OpenForum Europe (OFE), explores the burgeoning role of Open Source Software (OSS) within the automotive industry. Commissioned by the Eclipse Software Defined Vehicle (SDV) working group, the paper draws insights from industry leaders to outline the current adoption and future potential of OSS. It was first discussed at the European Commission’s Workshop on Open Source for Digital Autonomy.


Executive Summary

As the automotive industry undergoes a transition from a primarily hardware-focused approach to becoming more software-centric, it faces challenges and opportunities that demand both introspection and action. This paper investigates the current state and future potential of open source software (OSS) in this industry. It presents the following findings:

The Imperative for OSS Adoption: OSS’s adoption in the automotive landscape is more than a trend; it is a necessity. The competitiveness of the automotive industry in any region hinges on this adoption, addressing both the ability to leverage OSS and the willingness to share advancements. It is essential not only for technological advancement but also for navigating the complexities of strategic lock-in and ensuring digital sovereignty for an important European industry.

Capacity-building and the Shift to Software: The transformation in the automotive industry, driven by electrification, autonomous driving, and other technological advancements, signals a clear transition from hardware to software. While these changes present opportunities, they also pose challenges too vast for single entities to address alone. The industry’s historical hardware-centric focus sometimes acts as a barrier to embracing these shifts. Addressing these challenges requires an investment in capacity-building for OSS. Initiatives such as Open Source Program Offices (OSPO) are instrumental in fostering understanding, strategic utilisation of OSS, and in cultivating a future-ready culture. These structures make the sector appealing to the next generation of software talent.

Challenges of the Traditional Model: The conventional hierarchical supplier structure in the automotive industry often clashes with the collaborative ethos of OSS. Transitioning to an ecosystem-centric approach, grounded in OSS principles, is vital. Government intervention can act as a catalyst in facilitating this shift, providing both facilitation and financial support This intervention paves the way for a reimagined collaboration-competition dynamic.

Rethinking Collaboration and Competition: In contrast to sectors where software plays a foundational role, automotive firms often favour in-house software development, which limits their competitive advantage. Distinguishing between differentiating and generic technology is crucial, urging the industry to reassess its stance on collaboration and competition. Collaborative endeavours, particularly around software supply chain sustainability, emerge as the clear path forward.

Digital Sovereignty and Open Platforms: Experts interviewed for this paper unanimously voiced the need for building future software-defined vehicle (SDV) platforms on OSS and open standards. In a world grappling with increasing regionalisation, the concept of “digital sovereignty” — the ability to make decisions independently and align with regional mandates — becomes even more significant. While this aspiration is paramount, the OSS model not only aligns with this vision but also contributes to the overarching goal of enhancing the industry’s global competitiveness.