AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

March 7, 2010 17:03 rlanctot
It is very strange indeed to find Toyota at the focal point of a vehicle recall imbroglio after years of immaculate quality ratings and at the peak of its global market share. But the strangeness of the timing is even more severe than that, because it was Toyota’s Prius that was used by QNX and Alcatel-Lucent to promote their “ng connect” LTE Car initiative late last year. The Toyota Prius became the mascot for the ng connect program, popping up in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, in fact anywhere cars or automotive technology were on display. The purpose of the ng connect tour was to spread the word about the onset of 4G LTE technology and what it will mean for connected cars. Of course, the tour was also a showcase for QNX’s vision of both on-board and connected applications. Chief among the roster of on-board applications was a so-called Virtual Mechanic. The virtual mechanic is intended to provide live in-vehicle status reports on a wide range of vehicle systems including brakes, transmission, fuel, etc. with text and graphics. QNX is already the enabling software behind OnStar which, like Ford’s Vehicle Health Report feature, provide drivers with emailed status reports. The difference with virtual mechanic is that the information is live and delivered inside the vehicle. For QNX, the virtual mechanic was merely a concept shown in the context of a wide range of other concepts including in-vehicle displays of remote traffic cameras, access to Internet radio (Pandora), and a host of other location-aware and entertainment oriented applications. But the plot thickens with the emergence of Toyota’s recall nightmare because QNX is a supplier to both GM and Toyota. The virtual mechanic concept appears to belong to QNX, but the possibility for GM or Toyota to adapt the technology for their own marketing and customer relations purposes changes the prospects for this technology considerably. The question now is which manufacturer, Toyota or GM, will be first to enable a virtual mechanic-type application in the car. Or could some other QNX customer leap to the front of the queue: BMW, Peugeot, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Hyundai? Any one of these companies can look at Toyota’s difficult situation and realize they could be the next car company with software-laden cars producing unexplained, and seemingly unfixable, failures. A challenge for both Toyota and GM in implementing QNX's virtual mechanic will be the limited number of cars both companies sell with full-screen navigation sufficient to graphically display on-board systems. But LCD attach rates are improving for all OEMs in all segments and this application is yet another justification for large display fitment. Suffice it to say that the virtual mechanic is a concept that has arrived just in time to offer a way forward for a damaged auto maker and possibly for the entire industry. Whether QNX’s customers view this prospect from the same perspective remains to be seen. A final note: In this analyst’s opinion, the virtual mechanic will also make a great customer demonstration for car dealers. virt-mech-2.JPG Source:  Strategy Analytics

March 4, 2010 00:03 rlanctot
At a recent telematics event in Shanghai a General Motors executive, when asked who owned the vehicle data generated by the OnStar system, said the customer owned the data. His response was somewhat misleading, and it highlighted the quandary facing the automotive industry, particularly in the wake of Toyota’s unintended acceleration woes and related recalls. What vehicle data are car makers going to collect, who will have access to it and under what circumstances? In truth, customers have little or no access to the data generated by their telematics systems. In fact, the sharing of this data is anathema within the industry. Some limited information is being shared under very specific circumstances (vehicle location, fuel level, battery charge, etc.), but the volume of data being shared is miniscule in the context of the scope of data collection. Actually, for many OEMs it is a cardinal rule to not preserve or share vehicle data for a wide variety of reasons including, but not limited to, liability and privacy. It is for this reason that companies such as BMW, Mercedes Benz and GM have not provided Web delivery platforms for preserving and reporting comprehensive historical vehicle data to their telematics customers. While it might make sense to provide complete driving and service history to the customer it is also possible that either the customer or the OEM does not want all of this information shared for the reasons noted earlier. (Of course, OEMs are particularly concerned with liability, consumers are more concerned about privacy.) Toyota’s recent recalls related to vehicle acceleration and other failures have highlighted these limitations and threaten to upend the manner in which vehicle data will be managed in the future. One early press report suggested that the current Toyota on-board systems for capturing event data were limited and definitely not able to shed light on incidents that may have contributed to driver fatalities. Whether that is true or not, it is clear, by now, that Toyota either has insufficient data to properly diagnose the problem(s) in a timely manner or is hiding valuable information from its customers and NHTSA. It is hard to envision governmental organizations such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) resisting the urge to demand higher degrees of data collection, disclosure and analysis. (A brake override system mandate is already in consideration, according to published reports.) Consumers may demand more data as well and solutions already exist from suppliers such as Hughes Telematics and QNX. Hughes has been showing for more than three years its concept of a vehicle Website showing the status of various vehicle systems in realtime. And QNX has demonstrated comprehensive on-board diagnostics including data and graphics and complete user interface with its LTE car project in conjunction with Alcatel Lucent. Ironically, even in a perfect world, the prospect of diagnosing vehicle problems from vehicle-generated data is far from guaranteed. Still, more data is generally better and the federal government in the U.S. long ago contributed its voice to the debate. A mandate for electronic data recorders – set in 2006 - comes in to being in 2011 in the U.S. laying out requirements for data collection, retention and the terms and conditions for access to the data. Perhaps Toyota would have benefited from such an implementation. (The U.S. mandate contrasts with Europe where privacy concerns have trumped the interest in accident diagnostics thereby forestalling wider EDR adoption either voluntarily or via mandate.) EDR data, unlike telematics-related data, is typically only gathered in connection with a vehicle accident and is normally only accessible to public authorities acting on behalf of law enforcement or insurance agencies with the cooperation of the vehicle owner. OEMs that have deployed telematics systems are already capturing, processing and leveraging vehicle data whether consumers have access to this data or not. GM, for one, claims hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from warranty claims avoided by leveraging OnStar data to resolve problems before they become recalls. Most consumers are not aware of what data is being captured or how it is being used. This contrasts with the mobile market where Droid phones, for one example, ask the customer to opt into sharing location-related information. The proliferation of connected vehicles will force OEMs to reconsider their data management and sharing policies. Toyota is no doubt weighing its strategy for managing its fleet; processing vehicle failure information; sharing that information with regulatory authorities, dealers and consumers; and responding to inquiries from the public and the press. Out of a worst case scenario for the industry is likely to come a new paradigm for information sharing that will be more open and comprehensive and which, hopefully, will lead to greater peace of mind, safety and understanding of vehicle functions among the driving public.

February 21, 2010 20:02 rlanctot
Telematics has become synonymous with automatic crash notification and roadside assistance, thanks to the admirable and successful marketing efforts of General Motors and OnStar. But telematics is so much more than this and this story needs to be told, particularly in the wake of Toyota’s recall debacle. I have been driving a telematics equipped vehicle for the past year.  For me, telematics has meant destination and navigation assistance, movie times and theater locations, and flight arrival times, but, most importantly, telematics has been a powerful connection with my dealer. When combined with on-board diagnostics, the telematics system in my car has meant notifications for low coolant, an engine failure (although the vehicle was still able to operate), low oil level, low tire pressure, and scheduled maintenance.  In each case, the warning in the vehicle caused me to contact the concierge service for guidance.  And in almost every case, the guidance led to an on-the-spot invitation to visit the dealer to correct the problem. While saving lives via ACN is certainly a valuable contribution for a telematics system to make, it is the daily needs related to maintaining a vehicle (and preserving its function and value) that determines the true worth of a telematics system to the dealer and the customer.  With each dealer visit I have learned more about my car and forged a stronger bond with the dealer and with the brand. The combination of diagnostics and call center connection has made the ownership experience one of the most pleasing automotive experiences I have ever had owning a car. In contrast, I receive occasional mailings related to my other vehicle when the computer for the dealer of that vehicle guesses that I have crossed a mileage threshold and am due for scheduled maintenance. (For some reason, dealers – at least the ones I have worked with - routinely fail to properly set the on-board diagnostic systems to the correct mileage thresholds or time stamps, which leads to premature visits for oil changes etc.) There is a big difference between an onboard service notification – which conveys a degree of urgency – and a dealer postcard that looks like a mass mailing come-on. The value of integrating diagnostics and telematics systems has not been lost on OEMs, as both Ford and GM have introduced diagnostic elements in their respective systems. Both systems provide email notifications of vehicle status and functionality. And Hughes Telematics’ vision for automotive connectivity includes Internet-delivered vehicle status reporting. For me, though, it is the integration in the car itself that is most powerful. What is missing in some systems, though, is a more complete integration. When I call the OEM call center, the OEM should already know that a problem has been flagged. The driver shouldn’t have to tell the call center what the error code is. In fact, there are some indications that OEMs such as BMW are moving toward more pro-active messaging to customers in the event of error codes or system failures. Acura, for example, leverages the XM satellite radio connection to the vehicle to provide for direct one-way communications to specific vehicles in the event of recalls or other urgent service issues. (The market is also moving toward onboard and offboard digital manuals, but OEMs will remain hesitant to focus on enabling the customer to correct any but the simplest vehicle problems.) The next step in this process will see a more complete and comprehensive vehicle connectivity solution.  Today’s integrated telematics and vehicle diagnostic offerings fundamentally help to preserve and extend the customer relationship as well as the value of the vehicle investment. For those reasons, it is time for a more complete portfolio of integrated messaging to include leasing, insurance and warranty service partners and their information. Customers should only have to go to a single Website to manage or obtain all of their vehicle information including financing, insurance, scheduled maintenance, maintenance history, and warranty information. Bits and pieces of this kind of integration exist, but the OEM or dealer group that makes a more complete solution happen will have a significant advantage in building customer relationships and maintaining the value of the fleet. Toyota’s woes – and the many other less noteworthy recalls that regularly afflict the industry – are a wake-up call.  As more OEMs move to bring vehicle connectivity to the market, the focus will be on the leveraging of diagnostic data for enhanced dealer-customer connectivity.

February 5, 2010 15:02 rlanctot

Autotxt is a stolen vehicle recovery and immobilization solution provider that spread its wings in 2009 to move beyond its home market in the United Kingdom to explore SVR opportunities in Germany, Brazil and China.  In the process, the company has begun trials of fleet solutions around the world pointing the way forward for the entire fleet industry to bring robust commercial solutions, eventually, to the large volume passenger vehicle market.

 

Autotxt has clearly recognized that its immobilizer technology, though a powerful differentiating solution, is not a mass market product. In the U.S., for example, vehicle immobilization is primarily used in the buy-here-pay-here market for consumer with poor credit seeking to purchase cars. This market segment is served by a half dozen or more companies and experiences strong, steady demand. OnStar caused a stir with its vehicle slowdown solution introduced in 2009. There have been a handful of high-profile vehicle recoveries using the technology, but it has yet to see wider application - something that Autotxt might change.

 

Autotxt is building upon its existing solution to offer comprehensive vehicle telematics solutions with over-the-air configurability, CAN integration and Website management for fleets. But these same solutions are increasingly well-suited to the passenger vehicle market especially since they already include tools for CO2 reduction and green navigation. The next step for Autotxt may well be more consumer-facing products and services.

 

In the U.K., Autotxt is best know for its Thatcham Category 5 vehicle recovery technology which includes pro-active notification of the vehicle owner of its theft and the ability to immobilize the vehicle and thereby recover it.  The Autotxt solution is used by Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover and Autotxt is now running tests and trials with potential customers in Germany and elsewhere.  The technology represents a major business opportunity for Autotxt in Brazil, but that country is still in the process of re-evaluating its vehicle tracking and immobilization mandate.

 

In Germany, Autotxt is currently running trials with bigger commercial vehicle fleets with its new fleet efficiency tool, which focuses on improving driver behaviour, reducing CO2 and anti-theft.  The first trials are nearly completed, according to the company.  In China, Autotxt has two different activities, one focused on fleet applications and another one involving stolen vehicle tracking solutions for car makers.

 

All Autotxt applications involve CAN integration and in-depth CAN analysis for accurate data.  The company's hardware is configured over the air for the dedicated vehicle type.  The company also provides custom configured Web-based applications for customers for free since there is no standard telematics product for every customer.

 

Immobilization technology has been available from Autotxt for several years. The company works with different service partners in different countries covering Europe and an increasing number other countries.  Development goes in the direction of interactive CAN applications (in cooperation with the automotive companies) and remote diagnostics capabilities (self healing car) in cooperation with IBM and Jaguar.  The company is looking at opportunities in the U.S.


February 3, 2010 21:02 rlanctot
With the statement: "Consumers want their devices to work together, so it is inevitable that single-vendor connected solutions will lose their interest," Pioneer's senior managing director, Akira Haeno has shoved a stake into the ground for the company's Platform for Aggregation of Internet Services (PAIS). Pioneer says this new content and services platform, set to arrive formally in mid-2010, will provide a seamless home/car/work experience for different content sources and services in conjunction with any connected device. The announcement opens doors to new market opportunities for Pioneer Electronics while also opening the company up to a new range of competitors that are already aggregating content and services. But Haeno's declaration is significant considering there are several connected devices that are otherwise closed to different content and service sources. A few that come to mind are devices from TomTom, Garmin, OnStar, and Apple. The ability to bridge all of these platforms will give Pioneer an advantage against rivals such as Airbiquity, Hughes Telematics or even UIEvolution. The PAIS platform presents open-standard interfaces for voice, navigation and maps, local search, social networking, music and radio and video and television, the company says. The interfaces enable the addition of new content and services without the added investment in proprietary solutions. Pioneer's solution is a direct challenge to the strategies of competing Tier Ones such as Visteon, Continental, and Denso among others, all of whom are offering to enable a wide range of applications. Even real-time operating system supplier QNX has had to race to deliver new application interfaces in support of its technology already deployed in 12+ vehicles. The Pioneer solution is based on Windows for Automotive and incorporates VoiceBox technology but is otherwise technology agnostic. The challenge for the content and service aggregators will be to demonstrate that their solutions are truly able to seamlessly and easily deploy new applications. Ford Motor Company and Mercedes-Benz are the first to reach the market with systems sufficiently flexible to deploy additional applications. Ford relies on smartphone connectivity, while Mercedes combines smartphone connectivity with a sophisticated back-end provided by Hughes Telematics. Ford has made a software development kit available, as has Continental for its Android-based systems. Mercedes has not released an SDK but company executives envision a day when Mercedes customers could create widgets or full applications. Competitors may see a tough choice in choosing to support or leverage the Pioneer platform, but the company is early enough to market to stake a credible claim and the solution will no doubt support Pioneer's own connected offerings.

January 20, 2010 17:01 rlanctot

The single most important automotive product introduction at CES was MyFordTouch and the related software developer kit (SDK) and application programming interfaces. Competing OEMs and their suppliers are scrambling to respond to Ford's strategy which is only manifesting today what

has been in development for five years or more. In the end, Ford has created and demonstrated an ability to design and deploy new features and functions at an unheardof pace, unmatched in the industry.

 

Ford has finally solved the automotive industry solution development logjam and has further opened up its platform for the creation of even more new applications by third parties. This "long-tail" strategy has created a competitive environment where the OEM (or supplier) that enables or is capable of enabling the most applications will win. This does not mean that every car buyer uses every application, but it does mean that there will likely be at least a few applications that every driver will want to try - hence the long tail. It also means great aftermarket opportunities, marketing angles, and customer touch opportunities for Ford and its dealer network - "come down and get your free apps!"

The Ford announcement greatly overshadowed Kia's Uvo launch, which represented a significant advance on the original Ford Sync and is based on an updated Microsoft MS Auto platform.  Similarly, the OnStar Volt smartphone integration announcement is a mere one-off feature introduction for a single expensive vehicle due much later in 2010. Though the vehicle charge status application is necessary for the electric vehicle segment, t is not a mass market concept and it was originally shown a year ago. It does show OnStar integrating smartphone funtionality for the first time, but it is not the harbinger of an open platform from OnStar.

 

The mbrace announcement from Mercedes late last year was more important because Mercedes will be launching additional smartphone applications thanks to the Hughes Telematics back-end architecture. OnStar lacks the flexibility to deploy a wide range of applications in the same manner as Mercedes.

The influence of Ford's architectural decisions is reflected in the movement of Tier Ones to enable a wide range of applications across multiple platforms and operating systems. Some examples include QNX's ConnectedCar, Continental's AutoLinQ, Airbiquity's aqLink, Visteon's connectivity platform and Denso's BlueHarmony. Continental's choice of the Android operating system, in particular, reflects the objective of opening the automotive environment to a wider software developer community. Continental, in particular, announced plans for its own Androi-based SDK for Q1 and an application store due in the second half of 2010.

 

Even telematics service providers - Airbiquity, Cross Country/ATX, Hughes, and WirelessCar - are seeking to enable and support a much wider range of applications ranging from news, weather and sports content delivery to traffic camera display and Internet radio. And social networking applications such as Twitter, FaceBook and myspace are being enabled for embedded in-vehicle use as well.

OEMs will do well to choose hardware, software, content, operating system and service providers that are capable of rapid deployment of voice and connectivity-enabled features and functions in a safe manner via a controlled vetting process. Ford is showing the way, but there will be multiple paths to this objective.


January 13, 2010 16:01 rlanctot

Genivi Challenges Automotive OS Duopoly, Disrupts Business Models

 

The Genivi Alliance had a coming out party at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Aside from the formal launch of the alliance at CeBIT in the winter of 2009, the organization has chosen smaller stages from which to tell its story and attract additional partners. At the CES show, however, Visteon raised the Genivi flag high in introducing new automotive infotainment solutions.

 

Genivi is currently positioned in the industry as an alternative to Microsoft and QNX as an automotive operating system for a range of cockpit applications. The business models of these three organizations differ significantly, though, and the objectives of the Genivi Alliance are not strictly related to taking the place of either of Microsoft’s automotive OS offerings or QNX. The stated objectives appear more closely aligned with reducing development costs for OEMs and, more recently, may include shifting ownership of intellectual property to the OEMs as well.

 

QNX and Microsoft are not the only operating systems available to automotive suppliers. There still remain multiple Linux distributions – including the recently emergent Android being positioned for automotive applications by Continental - as well as versions of M-Itron. But when it comes to the development of the most advanced automotive cockpit systems on the road today, QNX and Microsoft are dominant.

 

When it comes to business models, the two companies differ significantly. Microsoft has a reputation for being expensive, but mitigates the expense with marketing dollars. QNX takes a more traditional approach to software licensing and is a much quieter player in the market, from a marketing or marketing dollars standpoint. Microsoft has found success in both the high-end infotainment segment and the low end (Ford Sync, Fiat Blue&Me).

 

QNX has seen much of its deployments in the luxury segment in connection with parent Harman International, but has also had its share of success in Bluetooth solutions, instrument clusters and GM’s OnStar system. QNX’s most recent success has centered on its work with Lexus and parent Toyota which appears to have opened the door to additional business in Japan. QNX claims in excess of 12M cars deployed with its software.

 

The Genivi strategy, rooted in the shared-code model of Linux, is designed to speed product development by identifying and distributing those layers of operating system code that are identical across platforms. Of course, all operating systems have an element of shared code, but the Genivi approach creates a “star chamber-like” panel of alliance members that vet new additions to the underlying shared code, presumably leaving ample room for alliance members to differentiate their solutions in higher levels of the software stack such as HMI are other application-specific areas.

 

Genivi had its CES debut in the Visteon booth. While one physical platform was shown based on an Intel ATOMM processor, executives said it could be swapped out for solutions from competing silicon suppliers such as Renesas or Freescale, depending on the customer requirement. This is one element of the Genivi platform, like other industry platforms it is intended to allow virtual plug-n-play swapping of processors and other system elements.

 

Visteon executives noted that the initial release, Genivi 1.0, occurred December 17 and the organization is now in the midst of a 21-business day review by its membership. Genivi announced that it surpassed the 50-member mark before CES including such significant partners as Renesas and Nissan. The Genivi 1.0 review is to be completed Jan. 21. During the period of the review the Board of Genivi may receive, via its executive director, any potential member claims of IP which were not contributed by the member under the terms of the IPR policy that they feel are infringed upon with the candidate release. The review period is also indeed to perform a careful review of the documentation of inbound and outbound licensing of the components included in the release. In no notifications occur, the board is expected to vote in a meeting Jan. 27 to release Genivi 1.0. Otherwise, the Board may delay until IP notifications are research and resolved or until license documentation is complete.

 

Because Genivi is so new, rumors continue to swirl around critical business model issues such as IP ownership by OEMs implementing Genivi solutions and around the extent to which it may creep into upper levels of the software stack such as HMI and the application level. For now, the industry will have to wait for its chance to see the first implementation.

 

Genivi will coexist in the market with both QNX and Microsoft including in some of the same systems. This is true for Android as well, which will not replace QNX or Microsoft in the short run. In the end, while additional versions of Linux will continue to emerge and find a place in the automotive market, the duopoly of Microsoft and QNX is likely to persist for some time. Genivi stands to have its greatest influence over time as additional layers of code are added. Participants in the alliance will be watching most closely to see that their value add contribution is preserved.