February 22, 2024

What Is Automotive Software? Learn About Emerging Trends in Car Software Development

Version Control

The world of automotive software is constantly shifting and transforming. From autonomous, self-driving cars to electric cars and advanced driver assistance systems, software in cars continues to become more integrated and complex.  

In fact, according to research from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, most cars today now incorporate more than 100 million lines of code, whereas ten years ago this level of automotive software could only be found in high-end vehicles. This fast evolution of software in cars is driving a rapidly expanding automotive software market – one poised to reach $462 billion by 2030.  

While this new horizon of automotive software promises gains for developers and benefits for consumers, it can also introduce challenges as teams take on more complicated projects. Read on to learn more about trends and advancements in automotive software and essential tools teams need, or jump to the section that interests you most: 


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What Is Automotive Software 

Automotive software is a broad term that encompasses all the software applications and systems used in modern vehicles. It plays a vital role in the functionality, safety, and performance of cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles. 

Here are some of the key areas where today's vehicles incorporate automotive software: 

  • Engine control: Software controls the engine's air-fuel mixture, ignition timing, and other parameters to optimize performance and fuel efficiency. 
  • Transmission control: Software manages the automatic transmission, ensuring smooth gear changes and optimal power delivery. 
  • Safety systems: Technology in cars powers airbags, anti-lock brakes, and other safety features that help to protect drivers and passengers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, modern vehicles have reduced fatality risks by more than 56% since the 1950s.  
  • Driver assistance systems: Software enables features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring, which can make driving safer and more convenient. A recent study of 11 million vehicles compared cars with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to cars without, finding that drivers of ADAS vehicles reduced their risk of bodily injury by 27%.  
  • Telematics: Recent car software development allows vehicles to communicate with manufacturers and service providers, enabling features such as remote diagnostics and over-the-air updates. 
  • Infotainment systems: Software powers in-car entertainment systems, navigation, and connectivity features. A recent report from The Economist links the popularity of infotainment systems in cars to a shift in focus from car hardware to car software development, noting that driving today prioritizes the user experience.  

As the automotive software market grows, consumers are demanding and gravitating toward more sophisticated car software development. While all the examples above reflect this general trend, McKinsey & Company notes customers are particularly prioritizing safety and autonomous features.  

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Examples of Automotive Software Shaping the Industry 

A recent deep dive from Electronic Specifier detailed significant developments in the history of software in cars, pinpointing the invention of early anti-lock braking systems in 1920 and early cruise control in 1950.  

Just as these fledging advancements constituted major events at the time, several key innovations stand out as some of today’s predominant automotive software trends. Here’s a look at recent car software development: 

Autonomous Vehicles 

This is perhaps the most transformative example of automotive software. Self-driving cars use a complex suite of software, including AI, machine learning, and sensor fusion, to navigate their surroundings, make decisions, and control their movements.  

While still in development, autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionize transportation by making it safer, more efficient, and more accessible. According to McKinsey’s automotive software report, 12% of vehicles on the road in 2030 will be fully autonomous.  

Over-the-Air (OTA) Updates 

This car software development allows manufacturers to update software in cars wirelessly. This can be used to continually fix bugs, add new features, and improve security. 

Electric Vehicles (EVs) 

EVs rely heavily on software to manage the battery, electric motor, and other components. Software plays a crucial role in optimizing EV performance and range. According to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electric vehicles are likely to represent 40 percent of car sales by 2030. As the shift to EVs continues, automotive software for these cars will get more sophisticated – expect enhanced battery management systems and charging integrations.  


More cars are now equipped with internet connectivity, which allows them to communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure, and cloud-based services. This serves various purposes, powering timely traffic information, emergency response, and in-vehicle entertainment. 

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Essential Tools for Car Software Development 

Creating software in cars involves many integrated tools. While these can differ based on specific models, companies, and teams, here are a few types of software commonly found in a team or organization’s digital tool suite: 

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software 

Computer-aided design (CAD) software helps teams design and draft 3D models. Popular CAD software examples include AutoCAD and Siemens NX.  

Version Control  

Version control, also called data management, enables teams to manage changes to code and files over time, as well as allows them to work on the same project simultaneously. An effective version control system allows for better collaboration and faster development, and it provides a complete history of an organization’s digital assets. Helix Core is an industry-leading version control system with unlimited scalability.  

Learn How Helix Core Speeds Up and Secures Your Development

Our recent e-book, Supercharge Your Embedded Development, breaks down why legacy tools aren't enough and why a modern version control or data management solution like Helix Core is needed. 


IP Lifecycle Management 

IP lifecycle management is a process that follows intellectual property (IP) from the acquisition/development phase, through qualification, distribution, and integration into design. IP lifecycle management software tracks IPs and their projects from conception through implementation, maintaining end-to-end traceability. Helix IPLM is the IP lifecycle management tool trusted by nine of the 10 top semiconductor companies 

Requirements Management 

Designing and implementing automotive software involves understanding and meeting thousands of requirements. A requirements management tool, like Helix RM, helps teams capture requirements, perform requirements reviews, know when requirements have been approved, and stay aware and proactive as requirements shift.  

Manufacturing Process Software 

After teams have designed car software, it must be manufactured. Automotive manufacturing software helps guide manufacturing teams and manage supply chains, helping to reduce errors, measure productivity, and more. Popular manufacturing process software tools include Epicor, Plex, and Infor.  

Digital Twin Technology 

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object. It collects real-time data from sensors on the object to monitor how the object operates, replicate its behavior, and drive decision making. Automotive companies like Porsche and BMW have used this technology to develop recent models. Recently, game engines like Unreal Engine and Unreal have entered the digital twin landscape, enabling new levels of visualization across industries.  

From real-time rendering for crash test simulation, training driver assistance systems with synthetic sensor data, and more, auto manufacturers are testing all kinds of prototypes before going through the expense of a build. 

Get Started with Digital Twin Technology for Automotive Software Development 

Our Start Innovating with Digital Twins Technology PDF takes a deeper dive into digital twins, including real-life examples of how they’re driving development across organizations and industries. See specific automotive use cases, plus learn how your team could benefit from digital twin technology and how to start building it. 

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Challenges of Developing Software in Cars 

While the advancements above are exciting for both the automotive industry and consumers, they also introduce and intensify the challenges of car software development. The process of building, testing, and integrating software in cars has many variables and risks. Being aware of these challenges – as well as seeking out tools to assist with them – is crucial.  


Modern cars are packed with software, often exceeding 100 million lines of code. This immense complexity makes it difficult to manage, test, and ensure the smooth operation of all the interconnected systems. 

Safety Standards  

A malfunction in automotive software can have life-threatening consequences. Developers must adhere to rigorous safety standards and employ meticulous testing procedures to guarantee software reliability.  


With increasing connectivity comes the growing threat of cyberattacks. Hackers could potentially exploit vulnerabilities in car software to manipulate systems, steal data, or even gain control of the vehicle. Robust security measures are crucial to safeguard against such threats. 

Regulatory Compliance 

The automotive industry is heavily regulated, and software development must comply with various safety, security, and emissions standards. Navigating this complicated and evolving regulatory landscape adds another layer of difficulty to the process. 

Rapid Innovation 

The automotive industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies and features emerging at a rapid pace. Software developers need to be adaptable and agile to keep up with these advancements and ensure their software remains competitive. 


Cars are no longer just about engines and wheels; they are increasingly integrated with external systems and infrastructure. Ensuring seamless communication and compatibility between different software components adds to the development complexity. 


Thoroughly testing automotive software across diverse driving conditions and scenarios is crucial. This can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially for features like autonomous driving. 

Learn How to Meet Automotive Software Development Requirements  

With software in cars becoming more complex and facing more stringent requirements, it’s vital for teams to make sure they understand and meet regulations. Our ISO 26262 Traceability Requirement in Automotive Design white paper details what’s needed for ISO 26262 requirements, an international safety standard for vehicles, as well as how an IP lifecycle management tool like Helix IPLM can help. Learn how connecting requirements, design, and verification through an IP management platform can streamline traceability. 

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Develop Software in Cars Faster and More Securely with Perforce Solutions 

The millions of lines of code in today’s automotive software make having a strong foundation for your development more important than ever. The high stakes of automotive software development also mean teams need to ensure safety and compliance at every stage in the process – from chip design to manufacturing.  

Helix Core and Helix IPLM from Perforce meet these challenges and are the complete version control solution for the automotive industry. In fact, Nissan, Porsche, Honda, and other top automotive companies rely on dependable, comprehensive tools from Perforce.  

With Helix Core, your team has a strong version control foundation that works at any scale, capable of managing unlimited files and connecting teams across the globe. Helix Core provides a single source of truth for teams. Our version control system tracks every change to a file and ensures that all team members are working with the most recent versions, eliminating silos and costly rework. Helix Core also offers dozens of integrations, so your other tools can work seamlessly alongside our version control system. Plus, Helix Core is free for up to five users and 20 workspaces, meaning stakeholders on your team can try it out and make sure it’s a good fit for your organization.  

With Helix IPLM – an IP lifecycle management tool that provides an integrated IP catalog with search and filtering capabilities – teams benefit from complete, end-to-end traceability. With every IP and its associated metadata tracked, organizations can also reuse their IP, enabling a more efficient workflow and a faster get-to-market time.  

Reach out to our team of experts for more information about using Helix Core and Helix IPLM for automotive software development. We’ll answer your questions, provide a personalized demo, and help you get started.  

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