An Interview With Johann Jungwirth

Volkswagen Group’s Chief Digital Officer

Photo credits : Volkswagen Group

As cars become more about software, Europe’s automakers are gearing up for battle with Silicon Valley. Are they up to the job? Johann Jungwirth, Volkswagen Group’s Chief Digital Officer, a self-driving car expert, worked for Apple and Mercedes in California before taking on his current position. (He is scheduled to speak at Vivatechnology, a conference taking place in Paris June 15–17.) He says he would not have returned to Germany to work for a European carmaker if he didn’t believe Volkswagen would play a key role in mobility going forward.

“Infotainment services are commodities, it is not where the game will be won or lost,” says Jungwirth. “The value is in developing the self-driving system and in adding digital platforms.”

The Volkswagen Group is planning two digital platforms — one for trucks and buses that will help with fleet management and another for consumers that will develop unique customer IDs and profiles across eight passenger-car brands. These digital platforms will be integrated with an artificial intelligence-based cockpit that doesn’t need manual-user intervention.

“When you enter a vehicle — even a rental car from one of our brands — you will be recognized,” says Jungwirth. “We will know what to present to you on the screen, what information you are interested in and your vehicle set up, down to the podcast that was paused when you parked your car at the airport. We think this will have a positive effect for people to stay in our ecosystem because of convenience and the best user experience.”

There will be huge digital real estate in our vehicles — much bigger than on tablets or mobile phones or TV screens — and I clearly see us being the owner of this platform.

But what about services that customers are already using from the likes of Amazon, Google or Apple? “We will link our ecosystem and experience to other ecosystems,” says Jungwirth. “Customers will be able to use Amazon Alexa or Google Home and have a seamless experience. That said, as soon as you are in our environment, our vehicles and our content, mobility and automotive stores will be in our control. It will be our experience and our ecosystem.”

As vehicles move “they are an ideal platform to connect you to your surroundings, they can serve as a platform for advertising or for augmented reality experiences,” he adds. “There will be huge digital real estate in our vehicles — much bigger than on tablets or mobile phones or TV screens — and I clearly see us being the owner of this platform.”

Unlike Silicon Valley players, who consider that they “own” the data, Jungwirth says carmakers will give consumers control of their data but seek to own the experience and the relationship. “To achieve that we will integrate hardware and software services across all of our brands, “ he says.