Automakers Roar Into CES
At the end of "What's Up, Doc?" the comedy of errors starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neill, there's a care chase, in which the two stars drive off a wharf in their VW Beetle in an effort to make a departing ferry. The Beetle, not to mention everyone else, ends up in the water (the Beetle, of course, floats as well here as it did in Woody Allen's "Sleeper.")
Automakers are hoping to sail across the gap between older horsepower-lovers and younger people who would rather drive an iPhone than a car, without sinking in the gelid waters of irrelevance.
That explains the big presence of carmakers at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At least eight automakers are there touting partnerships around entertainment, content, navigation, and autonomous-driving for platforms like Sync (Ford), UConnect (Chrysler), MyLink (Chevrolet), and Blue Link (Hyundai).
Doug Newcomb, who crosses the auto/tech gap pretty well himself, is automotive technology expert and contributor for Wired, MSN Autos and other automotive and technology outlets. He has also worked at edmunds.com.
He notes that this year Ford, GM, Lexus, Hyundai, Volvo, Audi, Porsche, and Subaru are among the presenters. "Automakers' involvement in CES has been increasing for the past five years," he says, adding that the domestic automakers have been especially aggressive at the show, starting with Ford's intro of Sync at the 2007 CES.
On Monday, Chevrolet showed off the new TuneIn streaming audio function linked to smartphone. TuneIn, which taps a global network of 70,000 stations, will first appear in the 2014 Spark and Sonic via Chevy's MyLink telematics platform.
Ford showed five telematics entertainment, content and nav products, touting it's partnership with mobile tech company Glympse, which does real-time location sharing.
Chrysler is touting new products designed for its Uconnect. One (the automaker is calling this an industry-first) allows dealers to activate navigation functions in certain Uconnect-enabled vehicles, as not all customers choose the option at the time of sale. The company is also doing new smartphone-enabled Internet radio features through Uconnect. The new platform features enables drivers to stream content from Aha, iHeart Radio, Pandora Internet Radio or Slacker Radio apps
Newcomb says consumers -- especially tech lovers -- recognize automakers' dedicated systems the way older autophiles might rattle off engine specs. "Sync, for example, is really known, especially in smaller and less expensive cars -- Focus and Civic, for example -- and it really makes a difference in sales. But it's the Wild West right now -- nobody has figured it all out, and they are looking for solutions. So the systems are all over the map."
The challenges: younger consumers are less interested in driving and cars than they are in handheld devices, a trend divined from numerous studies; as roads get more and more crowded, driving is less and less fun, thus Chrysler's Aha deal and Ford's Kaliki audio newsstand; quality isn't so much a game-changer now as it is table stakes. Design and upscale technology, especially in compacts, makes the difference now.