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.
Source: Strategy Analytics