A BMW board member said the company was going to shift its R&D focus towards software

BMW's driverless efforts ramping up to compete with Google

BMW’s driverless car efforts are ramping up with plans to recruit thousands of software developers to combat Google’s advances in the field.

BMW's board member for research and development, Klaus Froehlich, has described plans to completely overhaul the company, where half the R&D staff will be computer programmers.

But Google is also expanding its self-driving car team by hiring more people with automotive industry expertise in the ongoing arms race to produce a commercially available autonomous vehicle with software that satisfies regulators.

Google’s operation now employs at least 170 workers; many are software and systems engineers, and some come from other departments at the search giant. But it has not disclosed exact details about the size or composition of its self-driving car team.

"For me it is a core competence to have the most intelligent car," Froehlich said.

"Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an internet player. Otherwise we will end up as the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only the metal bodies for them."

BMW also sees other threats from non-traditional competitors, including firms like internet taxi service Uber and sales website Truecar, which Froehlich described as "new intermediaries".

Today, software engineers make up just 20 per cent of the 30,000 employees, contractors and supplier staff who work on research and development for BMW.

"If I need to get to a ratio of 50:50 within five years, I need to get manpower equivalent to another 15,000 to 20,000 people from partnerships with suppliers and elsewhere," Froehlich said.

As software becomes as important as hardware, another cultural shift could see BMW free up resources by licensing out technology produced by its own engineers, such as drivetrains for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Google has said previously that it intends to ready self-driving technology for a 2020 release, but it may never manufacture vehicles itself.

Rumours began circulating at the end of last year that the company was currently in talks with Ford to fulfill that role.

Google is also engaged in discussions with federal and state regulators about how to revise motor vehicle safety standards to accommodate autonomous cars.

But the software still has some development to go. One of its driverless vehicles recently crashed into a municipal bus in California, an incident for which Google admitted "some responsibility".

At a conference yesterday, BMW said that a British exit from the EU would be damaging to the future of the UK’s technology and manufacturing sectors.

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