Toyota Motor is rolling out new connected vehicles with software that can be updated remotely, letting drivers access the latest features and performance improvements without having to buy a new model.

Toyota will provide such ‘over-the-air’ updates for the new Teammate driver assistance system in the 2021 Lexus LS, which will allow for hands-off driving on the highway. Similar technology will be included with other models in the future.

Over-the-air updates can improve automated driving functions, such as the timing and speed of passing and lane changes, as well as fix software bugs in a timely manner. Eventually, updates could give vehicles a higher level of self-driving capability.

Remote updates are sent to the car directly, with no need for a contract with an internet service provider. But users of connected cars typically pay the automaker a recurring service fee, and the Lexus LS likely will follow this subscription model.

Other automakers are adopting over-the-air technology, including Volkswagen and Ford Motor with models that hit the streets in 2020. Any updates to safety-related functionality require approval by regulators in the country where the vehicle is sold. While autonomous-driving rules differ among countries, over-the-air updates make it easier to send different versions that comply with each market’s requirements.

As many elements in the performance of electric vehicles are controlled electronically, the software will become an increasingly important selling point as EVs grow more popular. That has the potential to transform an auto production system focused on hardware.

Toyota launched a software development company in Japan in 2018 and has been hiring engineers. Volkswagen said last year it will invest 27 billion euros ($32.5 billion) in software and digitalization through 2025.

Other parts of the supply chain will need to help keep automotive software secure. Auto parts maker Denso plans to expand its team of software developers by 30% from 2019 levels to 12,000 by 2025.

Source: Nikkei Asia