Stellantis taps Amazon to bolster software plans, will sell it electric vans

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The maker of Jeep SUVs and Ram pickup trucks is looking to Inc. to get a leg up in its efforts to profit from software-based products and services in its vehicles.

Stellantis NV and the e-commerce giant on Wednesday announced multiple global, multi-year agreements. They offer the framework to deploy Amazon software in millions of Stellantis vehicles, to train engineers in the technology and to make Amazon the first commercial customer of the battery-electric Ram ProMaster van when it launches in 2023.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, though Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares described it as "very balanced," with executives noting it will reduce software costs.

Stellantis NV will use software products from Inc. to offer digital products that it says will provide billions in revenue by the end of the decade.

The partnership builds on Stellantis' efforts to meld two traditional automakers that merged almost a year ago — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Groupe PSA of France — and transforn the world's fourth-largest automaker into a technologically savvy mobility company.

Stellantis said last month during its "Software Day" that it expects by 2030 that software-enabled product offerings and subscriptions will represent $22.5 billion in annual revenue, up from $428 million now, with 34 million connected vehicles on the road.

"It's an enabler to enhance the experience for our customers," Tavares said of the Amazon partnership during a presentation at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas. "It's an enabler to make sure that we can upgrade the performance of the products that our customers can enjoy through the life cycle of those products."

The basis of Stellantis' software efforts is three updateable software platforms, one of which is STLA SmartCockpit. Starting in 2024, this platform will replace Uconnect's Android-based system and be behind the customer experience in new vehicles for entertainment, navigation, maintenance, payment services and Alexa voice assistance. STLA SmartCockpit is the product of Mobile Drive, the joint venture between Stellantis and iPhone contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group.

STLA SmartCockpit will use Amazon products to create brand- and vehicle-specific capabilities through an app store. Chrysler Pacifica minivans might offer a family-trip planner recommending media content, points of interest, restaurants and other fun stops along the route. Or a Jeep vehicle could come with an off-road "coach" to help customers calibrate their vehicles to tackle rough terrain.

Integrating the technology with Amazon's smart home and security services also will allow customers to monitor and manage their homes while on the road. And Stellantis customers will be able to use Alexa-enabled devices to set a vehicle's temperature remotely, schedule service or order accessories.

"We’re excited to collaborate with Stellantis to transform the automotive industry and re-invent the in-vehicle experience,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said in a statement. “We are inventing solutions that will help enable Stellantis to accelerate connected and personalized in-vehicle experiences, so that every moment in motion can be smart, safe and tailored to each occupant.

"Together, we will create the foundation for Stellantis to transform from a traditional automaker into a global leader in software-driven development and engineering."

The deal gives credence to the automaker's aggressive software goals that are in line with crosstown rivals General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., said Daniel Ives, analyst for investment firm Wedbush Inc.

“It’s a major win for Stellantis to get Amazon’s further backing at a time in the market when competition is heating up, especially on the last mile,” he said. “They’ve made significant steps forward in their strategic vision and the plan focused on in-car software and in-cloud services. It’s a feather in the cap of the long-term growth profile.”

The agreements include Stellantis selecting Amazon Web Services as its preferred cloud provider for vehicle platforms. That means the automaker will employ AWS to migrate the data pipeline of its existing vehicles into a cloud-based data mesh. This allows Stellantis engineers to use the data in developing digital products with Amazon tools.

Fleet operators may have easier access to maintenance information of their vehicles. A commuter's vehicle may cut down on the number of buttons to click to get to their favorite podcast or playlist for their morning drive. The data also will be used so Stellantis can launch this year usage-based insurance and provide recommendations on how drivers can improve their payments.

Amazon and Stellantis are collaborating on a cloud-based "virtual engineering workbench" that provides a way to manage software development and testing, performance simulations, machine learning model training and data collection and analysis.

The partnership seeks to offer a cloud-first approach that would require fewer over-the-air updates, said Ned Curic, who joined Stellantis as its chief technology officer last summer from Amazon, where he was vice president of Alexa Automotive.

In a reversal of earlier interactions between legacy automakers and major tech players, Stellantis will own the experience and the customer — not Amazon. Stellantis expects it will update the software on a quarterly basis, though if an update has to come sooner, "we'll do that," Curic said.

"If we look at underlying frameworks and technologies that are available today, it's really difficult to do the things car companies want to do," he said. "We are embarking with something completely innovative, new and empowered-first to deliver all-the-time fresh experiences."

Some customers may have privacy concerns over their data. Stellantis can aggregate data from vehicles to derive traffic information or sell it to third parties for dynamic routing services, said Yves Bonnefont, Stellantis' chief software officer. Customers, however, will be offered some control over their information.

"If there is anything, any features that the customer doesn't feel comfortable with in the vehicle, the customers will have the capability to express their preference and get those preferences implemented," he said. "Customer trust is probably the most precious asset we have, and we do everything to keep it."

Stellantis during its Software Day also said it would launch a "software academy" to train existing and new employees. As a part of this, Stellantis and AWS will launch a global learning curriculum called the Agile-Auto Software and Data Academy. It will cover software, data and cloud technology.

By 2024, Stellantis will train more than 5,000 developers and engineers in AWS-related cloud technologies. The automaker is in discussions with universities and tech companies to incorporate this software training in coursework, as well, Bonnefont said: "We will also partner with universities to make sure that we can offer this notion of graduation, that it's not only something internal to scientists only, but it's something that has market value."

The companies also will launch a global network of AWS-powered "innovation hubs" where employees from both companies will collaborate.

"The vehicles are getting so much more laden with features and technologies that require software to power them," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. "Software engineers and the kind of people that do that work are few and far between. Amazon has a lot of them. Microsoft has a lot of them. It’s a way to acquire those services and have them on board. They have the expertise, in other words."

Not only will Amazon help Stellantis to achieve its software goals, but Stellantis also will help Amazon fulfill its commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2040. Under a "long-term agreement," according to a news release, thousands of ProMaster EVs will hit the road every year to deliver Amazon packages across the United States.

"We are going to work intimately with Amazon about having an even more precise understanding of the customer needs of the last-mile delivery suppliers," Tavares said. "What do those logistic providers need from us in terms of capability or for vans? It's not only about hardware, by the way, it may be also about software, and how can we improve their own efficiency in the way they deliver the last-mile service?"

Stellantis already has provided tens of thousands of light commercial vehicles to Amazon since 2018 in North America and Europe. Amazon also has ordered 100,000 larger electric delivery vans from Rivian Automotive Inc. by 2030, but the EV startup's stock plunged 11% on news of the Stellantis deal.

The agreements build on an existing partnership between Stellantis and the tech giant. The 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer were the first vehicles to have Amazon Fire TV integrated. Stellantis also was the first automaker to announce plans to implement Alexa Custom Assistant.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble