C8 CORVETTE: GM EVALUATING NEXT STEPS REGARDING ECU ENCRYPTION

Performance Companies Are Losing Business In The Name Of OEM Cybersecurity

C8 Corvette
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Since the launch of MC&T, we have been following the rising issues circulating around the cybersecurity of modern engine control units. Back in May, we originally received word that the new C8 Corvette will feature ECU encryption that will effectively lock out tuners from the engine. When others attempted to debunk this fact, we provided verification from a certain GM executive. However, it’s not exclusive to any one automaker, with several companies introducing ECU encryption (or something close to it) as hacking becomes a perceived threat in modern vehicles.

However, this soon may change to the benefit of the performance aftermarket.

“We’re investigating our next steps in the calibration space… we’re looking at how we’re going to manage that right now,” said Russ O’Blenes, director of Performance Variants, Parts & Motorsports, in an interview with MC&T.

Customers looking to the aftermarket to increase the output of, say, the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 or the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup trucks, are currently with little to no options outside of bolt-on parts such as a performance exhaust or intake kit. The case will be the same when the C8 Corvette launches next year – uncorking the LT2 V8 engine will be extremely limited without accessing the ECU, which controls just about every action happening within the engine such as spark, fuel injection, etc.

ECU Encryption LT2 V8
C8 Corvette LT2 V8, photo by MuscleCarsandTrucks.com

Even with certain crate engines, such as the mighty LT5 – a supercharged 6.2L V8 from the C7 Corvette ZR1 with 755 horsepower – come with encrypted ECUs that keep out anybody attempting to tamper with them. This began with the rollout of GM’s most advanced version of its Global A electronics architecture found in its T1 pickup trucks, and the C7 ZR1. The next-generation, Global B, will be found in the 2020 C8 Corvette Stingray. Its capabilities will allow for several types of over-the-air updates, including chassis control upgrades. However, this double-edged sword approach that OEMs are partaking in effectively keeps the hackers away, but the performance and tuning industry has become collateral damage.

“The reality is that it isn’t a GM specific thing,” said O’Blenes. “And as we get towards more system control of the vehicle, we need to continue to drive that safety is the number one priority at GM, and then we need to figure out how we can manage through to make sure that we don’t leave out our performance customers that want to make modifications.”

GM LT5 V8 Cutaway, Photo by MuscleCarsAndTrucks.com

We learned from talking to several people during the 2019 SEMA Show that aftermarket companies, especially those focusing on pickup trucks, are currently left completely out of offering upgrades on new GM truck platforms. Instead, they’ve been focusing more on late model, restomod, and pro touring solutions to keep business afloat. Even more well-known companies, such as Hennessey and Lingenfelter, have been unable to offer power upgrades on GM trucks.

Another issue, say sources, is that automakers could end up picking and choosing tuning companies, while locking out others. But the reality is that the framework for such a screening process is not yet fully solidified, and an ECU encryption solution, such as a backdoor, authentication code, or a master key, first needs to arise before this can even be a concern.

Written by Manoli Katakis

Detroit Region SCCA Member and founder of MC&T. Automotive Media Jedi Knight. Not yet the rank of Master.

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