BMW's Frickenstein cited the ability to update in-car systems as a major benefit of connectivity (Photo: Claus Dick)

HANOVER -- BMW, which has a fleet of 2.5 million connected cars on the world's roads, expects an automotive future with highly automated vehicles that are propelled by electric motors, Elmar Frickenstein, vice-president electrics/electronics at the German premium car brand, said Tuesday.

Frickenstein said connectivity is already bringing a broad range of new functions to the latest generation of BMW vehicles, which includes the new i3 and i8 electric models. He said 75 apps already are available for download in the cars, while new functions tailored to the electric models are being rolled out as well.

The BMW executive cited several new functions that depend on connectivity. Many of them are in the area of driver assistance and the upgradeability of key systems. He noted, for example, that customers can now get map upgrades for navigation systems delivered over the air. That updating ability also is available for other car functions. Said Frickenstein: "We can keep the vehicle up to date by bringing new functions into them in 38 markets."

Looking into the future, Frickenstein said highly autonomous driving will become a reality. But he warned that cross-industry regulatory changes will have to be implemented for this to happen. He said this kind of driving will come gradually, but he stressed that the auto industry will need IT service providers to play a key role in the development. "We need the IT industry to make all this safe," he said.

BMW was among the first to market its connected services under the Connected Drive banner. And earlier this year, with the launch of its electric i3 city car, the company is placing another big bet on a new personal-mobility segment.

Frickenstein spoke at the carIT Congress, which is hosted by the automotiveIT Group. The event took place during the IAA, the world's biggest commercial-vehicle fair.