The car industry making Gothenburg a city for coders
Today, there are over 100,000 Polestar electric cars on the road in 27 countries. They don't need to be connected to work. But if you as a driver want to enjoy all the services you have become accustomed to, the car must be online.
“If we're down for an hour in any country, we hear it directly from our customers,” says Dennis Nobelius, Chief Operating Officer at Polestar.
A two-headed sword for car manufacturers? No, there is only one way forward. Polestar sees automotive software as an important competitive tool going forward.
“That's where we try to find our edge. There, differentiations will take place,” says Dennis Nobelius.
Much of the utility and convenience is handled in the cloud. Polestar was the first car manufacturer in the world to base its infotainment system entirely on Google's Android OS. This means a seamless transition between the mobile phone and the car, and that the car communicates two-way in the same way as the phone. Navigation and voice control work the same.
Gothenburg-based WirelessCar builds solutions for connected vehicles from Polestar and Volvo Cars; Volkswagen brands VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda, as well as Mercedes, Subaru and Nissan. Through e-Call services, the driver, or the car, can order help with a flat tire or call an ambulance. Stolen cars can be tracked and the car can be rendered unusable remotely.
“We only work with software, outside the car, in the cloud. Even with remote services such as starting heaters, unlocking the car and opening the boot. So we are not making the car itself smarter, but improving it as a work and living space,” says Niklas Florén, CEO of WirelessCar.
“Connected cars has gone from being hype to something that just exists, and is expected.”
Almost all new cars and 100 percent of all electric cars are connected, according to Niklas Florén. Typically, car manufacturers – his customers – offer connectivity for the first few years, and then try to get their customers, the car buyers, to subscribe. But not all. Polestar wants to keep its cars connected for the experience, because updates are cheaper and security is better. The Polestar 2 has been updated 15 times via the cloud since the first ones were delivered in 2020.
This drives supplier growth. WirelessCar started in 1999 and the team has grown to 650 people in Gothenburg, with some 35 different nationalities and almost only engineers. At the same time, the skills shortage in tech is a challenge, and the company is trying to be active.
“We have brought in almost fifty newly graduated backend developers through our Rising stars trainee programme over the past two years and also run the Talent Tech summit where we gather stakeholders to promote skills supply in the region,” says Niklas Florén.
The key is to develop software together
Although the company is owned by Volkswagen and the Volvo Group, they are considered a small player internationally. Tier1 suppliers such as Bosch and Harman Automotive have hundreds of thousands of employees. Key for the smaller ones is getting to work more deeply with the car manufacturers, just like the Tier1 chain. In Gothenburg, that possibility exists. For example, WirelessCar has recently produced a digital logbook for those who drive Polestar cars for business trips.
Smart Eye is another fast-growing Gothenburg company, which delivers AI-based tools to monitor how the driver is feeling by monitoring head and eye movements. They work closely with Polestar and are leaders in their field, according to Dennis Nobelius. Smart Eye's system should be standard in the upcoming Polestar 3.
But there are many more companies in Gothenburg: Volvo Cars-owned Zenseact develops the Group's autonomous driving technology, Carmenta shows where ambulances are and Here delivers maps where the driver's privacy is at the core. Plus, of course, 5G operator Telia and telecom giant Ericsson. To name a few.
“I was just at a workshop for Telematics Valley, which gathered about 70 people. What strikes you is the breadth of players working with the digital side of vehicles. Not everyone is from Gothenburg, but it's interesting for everyone to be here,” says Joel Görsch, investment advisor for automotive and mobility at Business Region Göteborg.
Strong ecosystem attracts talent
The city is playing an increasingly important role in the development of advanced vehicle technology, explains Joel. And Polestar's Dennis Nobelius agrees. In Gothenburg, telecom, automotive and AI expertise comes together in a small geographical area. This creates an advantage and helps facilitate collaborations and meetings.
“We joined MobilityXLab last year. There you have startups that can interact with six or seven partners and do projects together with us,” says Dennis Nobelius.
“We have also launched a larger collective force in applied AI through AI Sweden, based in Gothenburg, an initiative that includes seven hubs in Sweden.”
The fact that global suppliers such as Nvidia and Luminar are now represented in Gothenburg further strengtens the cluster. Nvidia makes not only gaming PCs, but also the central PC in the Polestar 3 and Volvo EX90, and Luminar delivers LiDAR technology. Top talents are also finding their way here. Polestar has just recruited its Head of Software from Germany.
“We have an ecosystem that is getting stronger and stronger. In general, we are good at connectivity and cars. Four or five locations in the world have this broad expertise in automotive, and Gothenburg is among them,” says Dennis Nobelius.
“What we need to get better at is software. We have a fairly large talent pool, but here we need to be even better. Though, we are actually ahead when it comes to collaborating cross functionally.”
This year's most important forum for connected cars is the VECS conference, which this year takes place 23-24 May at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre in Gothenburg.