A Report from CES – A Tale of Two Telematics Visions (Ford SYNC and Lexus Enform)

A Report from CES – A Tale of Two Telematics Visions (Ford SYNC and Lexus Enform)

I have the good fortune to attend the Consumer Electronics Show, as well as the Telematics Update Consumer Telematics Show (TU CTS), both held in Las Vegas.

The highlight so far has to be the keynote speech given by Mr. Alan Mulally, CEO, Ford Motor who announced major enhancements to the successful SYNC (please visit www.autotechinsider.com for a free report on SYNC).

The Ford SYNC announcement has to be contrasted to Toyota's announcement of its North American Telematics strategy, which appears – to this author – to beOnStar on steroids (see www.autoblog.com/2009/01/07/toyota-announces-its-own-telematics-service/).

Ford is firmly committed to the cell-phone as the communication device versus an embedded solution as launched by OnStar and now adopted and enhanced by Toyota.

Mulally,along with his team, is a breath of spring time to Ford as a company and the industry as a whole, He said today, as part of his keynote, “no other company is better leveraging the cell-phone”.

Ford thinks its strategy will make it faster to market with new features (SPEED), provide a SCALEABLE platform for broad deployment across its fleet and, lastly, be more AFFORDABLE.

Affordability and availability has always been an important Ford mantra. For example, Mulally announced a new Service Delivery Network (SDN) based on a voice interface (TellMe) to services for traffic (INRIX), directions (deCarta and TeleNav) and information services (movie listings, stocks, etc.) as free services for the first three years of ownership.

This was not all! The software for your 2010 SYNC system can be upgraded by downloading the new “firmware” to a USB flash drive from the My Sync website and then loaded to the car through the USB port. This is a Ford and industry first.
One can’t help but compare the Ford announcement to the one Toyota made at yesterday’s TU CTS event. By the way, unlike CES (which is down in attendance this year), attendance at this eventhas grown – a positive sign that the telematics business is growing in spite of tough times!

Jon Bucci, Toyota's vice president of advanced technology, gave an outstanding presentation that described Toyota’s thoughtful and methodical approach to balance consumer wants/needs, development timelines (constraints?) and cost.

A “build a car” market research process was used to understand customer priorities and shape the Toyota strategy and viewpoint that no one size fits all.

From its press release dated 1-7-08, Toyota saidthat it will provide “Safety Connect on select Toyota models, helping to bring its drivers an added peace of mind. Lexus will introduce Lexus Enform with Safety Connect, a service built on the foundation of valuable safety and security services with the added layer of more convenience-oriented features and specialized advanced technologies.”

In summary, this is a basically an OnStar-like embedded (built-in) system optimised for robust communications, but with ATX as the Telematics Service Provider (TSP) and VoiceBox as a new enhanced user interface.

I couldn’t help but make the comparison: Toyota has taken a tried and true approach to telematics (embedded cellular with a TSP), while Ford is paving new ground as our industry innovator.

As a matter of full disclosure, I retired from Ford Research in 2006. This author is not impartial!!!

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