Of all the topics up for discussion at this year’s Global Automotive Forum in China, one keeps coming back to the fore: connectivity.

It’s of little surprise, given that China wants to ‘leapfrog’ the West to become a dominant manufacturing superpower by 2025, and to do that, it needs to be building the sort of smart, connected vehicles that buyers both at home and abroad will want to own.

Research presented at the forum shows that while 25% of  ‘Generation Y’ could live without a car, 75% couldn’t live without mobile connectivity. Unsurprising, then, that 89% of new vehicles are predicted to be connected by 2019.

The trouble, Link Motion boss Pasi Nieminen told delegates here, is that China’s automotive industry has been slow to wake up to the benefits of connected vehicles. “Stop thinking in the traditional way,” he told the conference. “Stop thinking about instrument clusters and ECUs. Start thinking about computers.”

While the engine has been considered the heart of the vehicle for the past 100 years, said Nieminen, for the next 100 years it will be the computer. “Connectivity is the biggest revolution in the car industry since the combustion engine,” he said.

It’s already looking like a tough road ahead for China’s automotive industry, along which it must play catch-up. However, Magna International’s vice president of engineering and R&D Mark Pascoe said the benefits are there to be reaped, if the technology can be introduced. “The limits of added value that connectivity can bring to a vehicle have yet to be fully understood,” he said “Cars will become more connected, allowing your data to move with you.”