Tension Builds Between Automakers and Tech Industry

While Apple and Google with their smartphones are in a strong position to control in-car infotainment systems, car manufacturers fight to recover control of all the car's advanced electronics.

by Andrej Sokolow, dpa / June 11, 2015

(TNS) -- The competition between the auto industry and the IT industry to take the driving seat in the car is heating up.

While Apple and Google with their smartphones are in a strong position to control in-car infotainment systems, car manufacturers are fighting to recover control of all the car's advanced electronics.

Industry giants like Ford and Toyota are considering cooperating on systems to integrate smartphones into future models, according to a Bloomberg report, something which would bring them into competition with Apple's Carplay and Google's Android Auto.

Carplay and Android Auto came out more than a year ago and are now gradually finding their way into new cars from Audi, Chevrolet and Hyundai. These systems allow smartphone apps to control entertainment or navigation on the car's screen and also integrate text messages and calls.

Most car makers support both platforms and at the same time continue to build their own solutions. Toyota and Ford are partners of Carplay, while Ford also supports Android Auto.

"In the industry there's much discussion about the relationship to Google and Apple," said a well-connected corporate consultant who supports auto manufacturers in building their own in-car entertainment systems.

"The car makers are afraid of losing data to Google and Apple."

This is about control: "Carplay and Android Auto are so designed that the car is an accessory of the smartphone." In addition, the car makers want room for differentiation: "In their business concept the service in a Maserati should look more high class than in a Fiat."

The Italian carmaker is seeking with its new Fiat 500X to develop its own entertainment system. Although the system uses a smartphone to get an internet connection, the entire user interface was developed by Fiat in cooperation with US company Harman.

At the same time Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne has declared that the car maker is looking for a strong partner and is also open to an alliance with Apple or Google.

Marchionne recently popped up in Silicon Valley and met there with Apple chief Tim Cook and the founder of the Tesla electric car company, Elon Musk. Cook was interested in Apple's "intervention in the car," the Fiat boss said cryptically.

That added further strength to the rumour that Apple is working on an electric car that will reach the market in 2020.

Of course the speculation does Apple no harm as it holds discussions with car makers.

Top manager Jeff Williams, who's responsible for the day to day running of Apple, recently added more grist to the rumour mill by saying that "the car is the ultimate mobile device, isn't it?" when asked about future product areas for the tech company.

The tension between the tech companies and the car makers is now almost palpable.

Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn recently launched a surprising attack on Apple at a conference in Berlin: "A company like Apple makes its products almost exclusively through suppliers in Asia - under partly questionable conditions. That is not our vision!"

What is clear is that cars will change enormously in the years to come.

Self-driving models as pioneered by Google could do without steering wheels and pedals and a switch to electric cars could spell the end for companies involved in manufacturing petrol and diesel engines and their transmissions.

The deeper that electronics penetrate into the car, the more weight Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple will have in the auto industry.

The established car makers will likely have to face new players in the field.

For example there's Local Motors, a US vehicle maker which uses open-source designs and which created the the world's first 3D printed electric car in 2014. The company has predicted "total

automotive disruption" and has plans to create its own self-driving car.

"Why not? We believe that the technology will rapidly become cheaply available," says European boss Damien Declercq.

Then there's driver-on-demand service Uber which recently poached 40 robotics researchers and scientists from Carnegie Mellon University to work on its plans for an autonomous taxi fleet.

©2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.