How GM's Ultifi software will change the buying and ownership experience

·3 min read

The electrical architecture that GM introduced with the Cadillac CT4 is called Global B, or after being given a marketing makeover, VIP, for Vehicle Intelligence Platform. The electric batteries and motors that GM developed for its new line of EVs is called Ultium. The next step in the automaker's plans to maximize what an EV can do and how much it can make from them is called Ultifi. Mentioned during last years Barclay’s Global Automotive Conference and lightly introduced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Ultifi is a Linux-based software platform that will encompass every aspect of GM vehicle ownership after 2023, from purchase to long-term ownership.

The easy to understand nugget at the center of Ultifi is the cloud-based toolkit akin to the Apple or Google Play stores that works through an app. GM customers can set up an account to get an ID number, then manage their interactions with GM and their vehicles through Ultifi. GM Chief EV Officer Travis Hester called Ultifi "a digital unification platform across the entire journey: Purchase, Onboarding, and Ownership." The purchase component is in play now with the 2022 GMC Hummer EV; the digital reservation system is part of Ultifi, as is the non-negotiable pricing. That non-negotiable part goes for GMC dealers, too, who aren't allowed to mark up nor discount the Hummer's price.

As for ownership, Ultifi opens up the possibilities talked about already but usually under the subject of subscriptions. GM says there will be "a suite of over-the-air upgrades, personalization options, and new and exciting apps" on offer eventually, and account holders will be able to transfer some of them between Ultifi-equipped vehicles. The examples we've been given so far are being able to turn internal cameras into facial recognition locks that can prevent the engine starting, adding teen safety features like the vehicle automatically slowing in school zones, vehicle-to-vehicle communication that alerts drivers to dangers on the road, and communicating with IOT-enabled devices the way Google and Alexa can do now, but through Ultifi.

Down the line, GM envisions being able to alter almost everything about a vehicle except its core performance parameters — and this goes for models powered by internal combustion, too. That means over-the-air tuning is a possibility from GM or approved third-party developers. Getting those outside developers reinforces app store comparisons, since GM would take a cut of app sales.

Since anyone using Ultify would need to sign up for an account, it's an opt-in service. And the platform will run with Google's new Android Automotive and Apple CarPlay; it's only a way for GM to stay in control of the software in the vehicle and how customers use their vehicles.

The service will start rolling out on next-gen models in two years. The way GM's VP of software-defined vehicles, Scott Miller, puts it, Ultifi could raise the average life of a vehicle from its current 12 years: "[Customers] will love it when they buy it, but they’ll love it even longer as it gets better," he told the Detroit Free Press. "When the next new thing comes out they can add it to their vehicle and not have to go buy a new car so this improves the relationship with them."

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