Cybersecurity in many modern GM cars makes non-OEM performance tunes impossible to use.
Once upon a time, modifying a car was a basic rite-of-passage for aspiring gearheads. These days, electronic engine management systems actually make the process of finding more horsepower rather simple – as long as you can crack the computer code. That’s becoming increasingly difficult in some cars, especially at General Motors which has touted “unhackable” ECUs in vehicles like the Corvette for a few years now.
Such tech makes it extremely difficult to perform modifications beyond simple exhaust or intake changes, but a new report from Muscle Cars & Trucks suggests GM wants to change that. Speaking to MC&T, GM’s Russ O’Blenes reportedly said that the company was investigating “next steps in the calibration space” for vehicle control devices. O’Blenes is the head of performance variants, parts, and motorsports for GM, and as he explains it, the trick is keeping safety the number one priority while making sure the company doesn’t “leave out our performance customers that want to make modifications.”
What’s the big deal about all of this? With wireless technology and over-the-air software updates continuing to spread throughout modern autos, there’s a legitimate need to secure these systems from hackers who might seek to inflict some mischief. Hacking in to change your radio station might be a harmless prank, but with level 1 autonomous systems now offered in many new cars, suddenly activating the brakes or steering could be deadly. The flip side is that increased cybersecurity can also block the ability to upload a performance tune for the engine. Or does it?
GM and other automakers are certainly coy on this particular aspect of ECU programming, but restricting access could also force power-happy customers to only deal with OEMs on such things. It could also encourage special deals between select aftermarket companies and automakers for what amounts to programming rights, and big money could certainly come into the equation – be it special aftermarket contracts or simply eliminating competition and forcing consumers to buy OEM upgrades. This is pure speculation of course, but it’s certainly not a stretch to see this side of the issue.
It’s encouraging to know that GM at least acknowledges enthusiasts and their ever-present desire to tinker, and that such desires could factor into future ECU development. As it stands right now, the 2020 Corvette is said to be unhackable which means that, if you want a C8 with more than 495 horsepower, your only recourse will be Chevrolet.