Buckle Up for the Next Automotive Revolution

November 18, 2015, 3:08 PM UTC
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  L to R: Andy (last name in question), Danny Shapiro, Jack Pokrzywa and Sue Calloway attend the Fortune and The Drive LA Auto Show Dinner on November 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images Assignment for Fortune)
Andy Gryc, director of the Connected Car Expo, Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia, Jack Pokrzywa of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and Sue Calloway, senior editor for automotive at Time Inc., talk cybersecurity at an LA Auto Show event hosted by Fortune and TheDrive.
Photograph by Getty Images

The “connected car” is going to be one of those insufferably buzzy expressions you’ll be hearing a lot in coming months and years. I say insufferable because like so many cutting-edge technological advancements the connected part will be more aspirational than actual.

Fortune and Time Inc.’s TheDrive web site hosted a panel at a dinner Monday night at the LA Auto Show to discuss how to keep cars from being hacked. The short answer: It won’t be easy. That’s because most cars have multiple points of entry for bad guys without a cohesive automotive “operating system” to govern it all. What’s more, the software developers writing code for cars, while capable, aren’t the best prepared to combat hackers. As Andy Gryc, director of the Connected Car Expo adjacent to the auto show, says: “The mindset that it takes to actually hack into the car and to pull off exploits is very, very different from the mindset of the person who has to build against that.” (Fortune’s Kirsten Korosec has a thorough write-up of the panel here.)

It’s an exciting time for the auto industry, and not only because it has rebounded robustly from the near-death experience of the financial crisis of 2008. Danny Shapiro, an executive with chip company Nvidia (NVDA), framed the times well. He noted that cars started out as strictly mechanical devices. Then they incorporated electronics in various components of the car. Now, at least with Nvidia customer Tesla (TSLA), cars have become computers themselves, with mechanical devices around them.

But that’s Tesla, which accounts for a minuscule percentage of the global auto industry. (I spoke to executives in Los Angeles who think Tesla never will make money in cars but that it will cash in on batteries to power home electricity.) The rest of the auto industry is still manufacturing vehicles the old-fashioned way—with a bunch of software cobbled on top.

Cars are getting connected. But slowly.

This article first appeared in the daily Fortune newsletter Data Sheet. Subscribe here for a daily dose of analysis from Adam Lashinsky and a curation of the day’s technology news from Heather Clancy.

For more on the risks of connecting cars, watch the video below.