Love them or hate them, Tesla has been largely responsible for at least one big, disruptive shift in the way automakers operate – apart from making EVs sleek and desirable, that is. Namely, Tesla popularized the idea of bringing over-the-air updates to the automotive industry. Before September 2012, when Tesla rolled out its very first OTA update for the Model S, few automakers had bothered trying to update the software in customers’ cars wirelessly over the internet. Now, there’s hardly an OEM around that isn’t talking about leaning more heavily on over-the-air updates in the future.
But OTA vehicle software updates were put in jeopardy recently in the state of West Virginia, as a bill making its way through the state legislature – House Bill 4560 – contained some pretty concerning language on the topic.
Website CleanTechnica was made aware of the issue in February, after acquiring a letter from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation urging the West Virginia state legislature to reject language that would have prohibited many automaker over-the-air updates in the state. Until recently, the bill contained language demanding that “a manufacturer or distributor may not… cause warranty and recall repair work to be performed by any entity other than a new motor vehicle dealer, including post-sale software and hardware upgrades or changes to vehicle function and features, and accessories for new motor vehicles sold by a licensed new motor vehicle dealer.” The bill carved out an exception for in-car infotainment systems, saying that the language “shall not include any post-sale software upgrades to the motor vehicle’s navigation or entertainment system.”
In other words: Tesla wants to give owners across the country access to Cuphead through the infotainment screen? Totally fine. Tesla wants to send out an OTA update to, say, protect a battery pack against premature degradation by limiting the depth of discharge through software? Not in West Virginia.
A Close Brush With Lunacy
The bill – which, it’s worth noting, was introduced by the dealership trade association – essentially would have meant that any software update beyond a simple infotainment or navigation tweak would require an owner to have the update applied in person, at the dealership. Or, in the words of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, it “would drastically alter the rights and obligations of automotive manufacturers and their franchised dealers in West Virginia. Many of the proposed changes would benefit dealers but would ultimately impose costs and inconvenience on the citizens of West Virginia.”
The latest iteration of House Bill 4560 strikes the language referring to “post-sale software and hardware upgrades or changes to vehicle function and features.”
Over-the-air updates are a growing focus for OEMs as their vehicles become ever more connected and tech-laden, and as they pivot further toward electrification. Last year, GM announced a new “end-to-end” software platform named “Ultifi” that would enable over-the-air updates, subscription services, and more. Ford, meanwhile, invited a select number of Mustang Mach-E customers to sign up for OTA software updates, and even rolled out an OTA update to decrease fast-charging times.