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[Weekender] All roads lead to in-car technology

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Published : 2014-05-09 21:38
Updated : 2014-05-09 21:42

Not so long ago, automakers were all about competing to produce and market vehicles with better horsepower and fuel-efficiency.

With the Internet of Things coming around the corner, automakers’ focus has shifted from not only introducing cars with powerful engines that consume less gas, but also to dashboards with in-car networks.

Automakers are revving up to form an alliance either with Apple, Google or both, following the introductions of their in-car platforms that can be linked with drivers’ iOS or Android-based mobile devices for infotainment and navigation.
Apple’s CarPlay system on Ferrari FF’s touchscreen console, shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March (Bloomberg)

Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Open Automotive Alliance and Projected Mode, connecting apps on phones with cars, have attracted a slew of carmakers including BMW, Hyundai Motor and Toyota for technology cooperation as they seek to offer drivers a “different driving experience.”

Korea’s Hyundai is one of the few carmakers that have partnered with both Apple and Google.

Its revamped Sonata will become the first Hyundai model to feature Apple’s CarPlay when it makes its U.S. debut in the first half of this year, while a new car equipped with the Google-backed infotainment system is also expected to come out early next year.

“Hyundai has long poured resources into in-car technology. Teaming up with both Apple and Google reflects the carmaker’s strong will to secure a competitive edge in the field,” said a Hyundai executive on condition of anonymity.

“Of course, we also have to sell cars to both Apple and Android users,” he added.

Apple unveiled CarPlay at the Geneva Motor Show last March, featuring connectivity between Apple’s apps and cars with its Siri voice control.

Following the first adoption by Ferrari’s FF, other carmakers such as BMW, Hyundai, Toyota and GM have partnered with Apple for the new system.

Google, which has been developing self-driving cars in recent years, also launched its own in-car system and an alliance with Hyundai, Audi, GM and Honda.

However, it seems unlikely for the tech companies to increase their presence in the auto industry anytime soon given that safety issues concerning in-car connections and autonomous cars remain.

Also, carmakers would be a bit reluctant to share their know-how and let tech companies access their customers’ data.

“Apple will not have access to any critical elements of the car, like the vehicle diagnostics or the safety systems,” said Lee Jeong, an analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities.

“Automakers also would want to work with smartphone tech companies rather than compete with them.”

In the meantime, the country is seeking to attract global carmakers as a test-bed market for their latest in-car technology development.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the world’s top-selling luxury brands, plan to set up their new research and development centers in Korea within this year to develop telematics and infotainment systems tailored to the Korean market.

“A new team of researchers will exchange feedback with decision-makers and engineers at the BMW headquarters. It is also possible to export good ideas from Korea to other markets,” said a BMW Korea official.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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