Motorola Rolling Out New Automotive Connectivity Products

Motorola is hoping consumers take to convergence when looking for automotive devices for music, telephony and navigation.

The company, which is rolling out several new products for automotive connectivity through cell phones, sees Bluetooth technology fueling a move away from separate digital music, navigation and phone devices that can be plugged into different car jacks, and toward all-in-one phones that connect wirelessly to the car's own audio system.

Edward Staehlin, Jr., director of product management for automotive and navigation products at the Libertyville, Ill.-based company, said that hands-free regulations that are taking hold state by state are forcing the issue, as is a shift in consumer perception of what a cell phone really is. "It's more about the experience than the phone," he said at a New York meeting of the International Motor Press Association yesterday.

"It's about how I use the phone and what problems it solves for me at the end of the day." The group in which Staehlin now works reflects that trend. It used to be called the accessories group, then companion products group, and now it's called MobileME. "It reflects the fact that we are really about defining the experience around the mobile phone, with navigation, communications and entertainment in vehicles."

The group, which has lately unveiled products in which Motorola music and hands-free technology is embedded, such as sunglasses and Burton jackets, this summer will bow a cell-phone based navigation system, which he said will cost an additional $200 to $250 above the price of the phone.

He said consumers will pay that premium because the price of a portable navigation device alone is far greater. "There's real reticence for folks to buy a portable navigation device, and we think the phone-based PND, with a much lower price point will appeal to consumers, also because it's part of a personal device that's with you all the time," he said.

"You are seeing exponential growth of music players in phones versus for just iPods," he said, adding that consumers, particularly car buyers, also buy digital music players and will pay more to get music streamed to them wirelessly, via Bluetooth.

The company, which currently has the T305, basically a blue tooth device that clips to a windshield visor and has a speaker for hands-free telephony, is rolling out several new hands-free telephone devices this year, along with the on- and off-board navigation-capable devices.

Retailer Circuit City, which sells a range of portable navigation devices, has completed its own national survey that asserts most Americans think that navigation technology is valuable.

Of the 3,000 people surveyed last month by independent research firm Decision Analyst, Inc., 71% said that having a global positioning satellite would save fuel or time. The retailer sells GPS devices from Garmin, Tom Tom, Magellan, Mio, Pioneer and Eclipse. Prices for the devices range from $250, with in-dash units starting at $1,000.

The survey by Decision Analyst also showed that communications, entertainment and navigation are-in that order-the most important on-board devices for parents hauling kids on road trips. In the survey, 98% of respondents said cell phones were very or somewhat important, followed by DVD players (71%), portable videogames (57%) GPS (53%), and a notebook computer (52%).