Will AI make your new car better?

Published: 18 March 2024 Updated: 18 March 2024

► AI is here, and it’s in cars too
► From DS to Renault and Mercedes
► But will it make your car better?

It seems you can’t move these days without discussions, debates and dog whistles surrounding generative AI. The car industry, like many others, is looking into how the technology can be used in the future – whether that involves the design and manufacture of cars, or improving the experience of the driver and passengers. 

What exactly is generative AI?

A collection of algorithms that can be used to generate new content, including text, images and audio. Tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard respond to prompts from users in text form. DALL-E, a tool that’s recently been incorporated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, is one of many generative AI programs that can create images.

VW with AI in interior

It’s these tools that are rapidly becoming more common in the automotive world, chiefly to augment a car’s infotainment (rather than anything directly connected with driving). DS kickstarted a trial to add ChatGPT into its Iris infotainment system, while Mercedes and Volkswagen are going one step further by installing the tech into all their cars running MB.OS and MIB4 operating systems respectively. Renault’s new 5 EV will also feature a voice assistant named Reno that uses AI algorithms.

‘In this world, hype comes and goes – but this is not the case with AI,’ says Mercedes’ chief technology officer, Markus Schäfer. ‘It got more intense with the introduction of ChatGPT and there is much more focus now. We’re taking all the learnings that we have over the last nine months with ChatGPT in the car and what we have announced is the next development of that.’

Jake Groves driving

What are the benefits?

Having generative AI installed into your car, according to many car makers, allows a higher degree of personalisation and a natural way of communication between human and machine. DS, for example, says its updated Iris voice assistant allows it to be a travel companion, suggesting good restaurants at your destination or telling your bored kids stories to keep them occupied.

AI will also be used in the new Arene operating system from Toyota/Lexus, due to appear in production cars from 2026, that promises a much more personal infotainment experience.

Behind the scenes, AI is being used in production, with car makers claiming benefits to both cost and the environment. At its Rastatt plant Mercedes is deploying AI to simulate a production line for its next-generation MMA platform-based EVs without interrupting the ongoing manufacturing of the current A-Class, B-Class, GLA and EQAs coming down the line. In the paint shop, it’s reduced the energy usage of top layers by 20 per cent.

Lexus using AI too

Renault Group boss Luca de Meo points out: ‘We have developed AI tools to efficiently fill our trucks and provide optimised routes, allowing us to use 8000 fewer on the road and avoiding around 21,000 tonnes of CO2.’

There are, however, risks. Besides putting human jobs in the firing line, generative AI tools regularly run the risk of copyright infringements or being plain wrong. 
‘It’s not something you implement in a car and then just leave it,’ says Schäfer, the Merc tech chief. ‘If you sit in a car and ChatGPT tells you something that’s absolute nonsense, you might be exposed to product liability cases.’

So car makers are proceeding with caution. But they are definitely proceeding into this game-changing new era.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, gamer, serial Lego-ist, lover of hot hatches