At the Convergence 2008 conference on automotive electronics yesterday, BMW revealed it is looking for partners as it pursues an open-source car computing platform. The German company is enthusiastic about the potential for such an open-source system's potential to keep up with the rapid advances in technology and features in the multimedia and digital entertainment areas.

Though no other car makers are yet officially on board, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Honda have previously participated in a panel on the subject, reports Automotive News. BMW said it wants to have an open-source system in a vehicle selling 200,000 or more units over the next five to seven years.

The newly revealed tie-up with Mercedes-Benz could make cooperation on this front likely as well, since whatever software is chosen will need a specific set of hardware to ensure compatibility - and hardware purchasing is the nature of the BMW-Mercedes agreement. "We were convinced we had to develop an open platform that would allow for open software since the speed in the infotainment and entertainment industry requires us to be on a much faster track," said Gunter Reichart, BMW vice president of driver assistance, body electronics and electrical networks. "We invite other OEMs to join with us, to exchange with us. We are open to exchange with others."

This spirit of openness and willingness to share and expand technology is a marked turnaround in the corporate car culture, especially between historical rivals like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Whether it's simply a marriage of convenience or a sign of the truly difficult times facing the industry, it's no less remarkable for its magnitude.

GM is also considering whether to go open source or to keep seeking proprietary solutions. "This is a decision we will make in the next six to 12 months. It's a great opportunity for us. I think this can really advance a lot of software development and bring a lot of innovation to the vehicle," said Chris Thibodeau, GM's director of global technology engineering for electrical/electronics products. Said Chris Thibodeau, GM's global director of technology engineering for electrical and electronics products. No discussion of cooperating directly with BMW has yet been made, but since an open source project can be contributed to by essentially anyone, once a platform was established, carmakers could cooperate at will as long as they managed to abide by whatever licensing restrictions apply.

Several other carmakers, including Chrysler, Ford and Honda expressed interest in developing the idea of an open-source platform further. Honda's Toyohei Nakajima, senior engineer at Honda R&D said, "We also need to make sure who will be responsible for such an open system architecture. Maybe we need to learn more about that from BMW."

BMW's ConnectedDrive system is currently deployed in many of its models, and offers an integration with the in-car iDrive computing system and access to the Internet from the road.