The battle for the dashboard is intensifying. Car makers are working feverishly to bring on-board the smartphone capabilities that buyers want while trying to limit access to digital giants such as Google and Apple.
The breakneck speed of smartphone innovation is hard to keep up with when a new car takes around four years to develop, but the auto firms are trying. Makers like Ford, Daimler, BMW and VW have opened up research centers in Silicon Valley, and global tech shows are filling up with the same companies.
Audi, Ford and VW are regulars at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and in Europe Ford has exhibited at Barcelona’s giant Mobile World Congress (MWC) for the last five years. Indeed, Ford is pulling out of conventional auto shows - it won’t exhibit at this year’s Paris auto show, the world’s largest, for example.
At the 2016 MWC this week, Ford launched the third version of its Sync 3 infotainment system in Europe with a better screen, increased smartphone integration and redesigned graphics. It finally included the increasing common Android Auto (developed by Google) and Apple CarPlay functions that migrate the look and some apps from the respective smartphones onto the dash screen.
This sounds like the full access the digital firms crave, but Ford says the data California-based companies can access is limited. That’s because the data is highly prized. It’s a big reason why BMW, Audi and Mercedes’ parent Daimler clubbed together and paid 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) for Nokia’s mapping service ‘Here’.
“Google is doing its own thing, Apple is doing its own thing. Uber is Uber. None of those want to be open — they don’t want to share or license their data,” Here CEO Sean Fernback told Automotive News.
Nobody is quite sure how they will convert this information or how, where and when it will drive into a revenue stream, but they are convinced it will become one. Ford along with BMW and Daimler want to use it to insert themselves into the whole process by which we choose the best transport mode to get around the world’s congested and increasingly car-unfriendly cities.
So far the three companies are trying hard to make city car-sharing work, but they are also investing in and testing phone and in-dashboard apps, to help with everything from finding a great parking space to buying train tickets.
Ford estimates the entire global car industry is only worth half the $5.4 trillion amassed by the transportation services business annually, “Ford gets virtually none of this. It’s a massive opportunity,” Mark Fields told the MWC show goers. In preparation, Ford has rebranded itself as an ‘automotive and mobility services company’. It’s a potentially huge shift that will have one small but useful benefit for the driver – their car dashboard might yet match the intuitive usefulness of their smartphone.
Fields admitted it was a long-term play, but as Google has shown, you’re in a much better place if you control the data. “If [the makers] were to use somebody who provides all that, they don’t get that large piece of the pie,” he concluded.