When a chorus of automakers started announcing they would eventually phase out their internal combustion engines, the undertone was usually this: “How hard could it be?” But it turns out the answer is “very hard,” especially when it comes to software – something more crucial than ever to the future of cars. The Volkswagen Group knows that pain very well. Now it’s bringing on Sanjay Lal, a veteran of Rivian and Tesla, to help solve its software woes. Can he get one of the world’s largest automakers back on track?
The VW Group announced Lal will lead the new Software Defined Vehicle Hub at CARIAD, its consolidated software division. Boasting more than 25 years of experience in the automotive software space, Lal was most recently VP of Software Platforms at Rivian, where he led the development of its infotainment systems, among other things. He has also held engineering leadership positions at Cisco, Google, and Tesla.
"Sanjay is someone we can all look forward to,” CARIAD CEO Peter Bosch said in a statement to InsideEVs. “He is a true expert in the Software Defined Vehicle – together with him we will develop a competitive advantage for the brands and the Volkswagen Group.” The “hub” Lal will lead is a small team across Volkswagen and Audi – with more brands to join eventually – focused on developing software more quickly, with less development time, and hardware built around it. “Speed is the new imperative to stay competitive," VW Group CEO Oliver Blume said to investors this summer.
Lal will likely have his work cut out for him. CARIAD was formed in 2020 to unify the VW Group’s previously disparate and disconnected software platforms, often with multiple software platforms and parts from different vendors – far from ideal when competing with companies like Tesla, which keep cohesively in-house. (Ford CEO Jim Farley has also explained why this is such a pain point for the automakers.)
But CARIAD has had plenty of its own headaches, such that the automaker’s software game couldn’t match its aggressive ambitions to go all-electric from 2035 onward. VW’s electric cars have had rocky software feature rollouts and plenty of glitches while key cars like the electric Porsche Macan and Audi Q6 e-tron were subsequently delayed due to bugs. Software woes are also part of the reason past VW Group CEO Herbert Diess was sacked in 2022. More disorder followed this summer when a number of other top CARIAD executives were fired, as InsideEVs reported in May.
These problems have also delayed the VW Group’s plan for Level 4 automated driving, putting it behind rivals like Mercedes-Benz due to get there first – to say nothing of its aggressive plans for in-car apps and subscription features to drive revenue.
In short, it’s been a mess for the company that originally kicked off the move to all-electric vehicles, in part out of penance for its diesel cheating scandal. All of the features that will make tomorrow’s cars more competitive will be software-driven. So it’s no wonder the company is excited to bring on Lal – a veteran of two electric automakers known for their A+ software game. If he can’t help sort out these issues, the VW Group could find itself further behind the curve and with even more frustrated customers.
A CARIAD spokesman didn’t respond to detailed questions from InsideEVs. But officials did say “the SDV Hub's development work will also form the basis for scaling the E³ 2.0 architecture throughout the Volkswagen Group. With the next-generation architecture, E³ 2.0, the Volkswagen Group plans to be the decisive step ahead of the competition.” It’s certainly going to need it; that’s one area where many of the startups and new players seem to have a significant edge.
If a guy from Rivian and Tesla got the job, what do you want to see from the VW Group’s revised software push? What can it do better than it’s done so far?