Auto players ‘boldly go’ towards tech horizon

The future of mobility and the autonomous vehicle dominated the debate on the opening day of TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 with the world’s biggest car-sharing firm, Zipcar, expressing its eagerness to see driverless vehicles on our roads.

In a keynote speech, Zipcar president Kaye Ceille said: “We feel like we’re in a good place enable simple and responsible urban living.” The company has operations in 500 cities in eight countries and around 1M customers who sign up for its services can access vehicles from various parking spots around a city or college campus, returning them to the same location when finished.

“When you live in a city, you don’t need to own a car,” she added, pointing to other mobility companies such as Lyft or urban bike-sharing services that operate alongside Zipcar. “There are many options.”

Zipcar also announced a new membership process for customers that no longer requires a waiting period to book a vehicle. It’s expanding a one-way service that allows pickup and drop-off of a car at two different points. Tested in Boston for the past year, that service is now being launched in Washington and Baltimore.

Yet autonomous technology is what is really exciting the car-share giant right now. Ceille said: “Tomorrow the car will come to you and take you exactly where you want to go. I love where we sit today and where this industry is going.”

Zipcar, which recently announced plans to roll out its service in Brussels later this year, reportedly expects the vehicle-sharing market to increase exponentially from about 2.4 million users today to 23.4M by 2024.

Meanwhile, traditional behemoth vehicle manufacturer, Ford, said the future of facing competition from major digital players like Google and Apple should hold no fears for carmakers. Its connectivity chief Don Butler said: “There is room for tons of players.”

The California-based software giants have upped the driverless ante with Google cutting an open-ended deal withFiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to develop automated driving. Ford, Google and the ride-hailing service Uber also are partners on autonomy, but targeting US regulators to help accelerate getting the technology on our roads rather than the technology itself.

At the same time Apple has upped its R&D spending on mobility possibly hinting at a big investment in the space in future.

But Butler warned the Silicon Valley organisations that traditional carmakers will not be pushovers in the battle for automotive revenues.

“In certain segments, they may have a competitive advantage,” he said. “But if I look more broadly at moving people from place to place, Google will not have a 100% share.

“They’ve already said they are not an automaker,” he adds. “They could be in a luxury niche. But Ford competes in all segments.”

And he said the carmaker will fight for dominance over connectivity in its vehicles. Ford offers a connection to the operating systems in its cars through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, because the automaker wants its customers to have choices, he said, adding Ford brings its own expertise to the vehicle user experience and it remains a valuable asset. “We are not going to cede that to Apple or Google,” he said.

Panasonic chose the mobility keynote presentation by its president and chief operating officer to highlight the gaps in providing a better mobility experience for consumers and how they can be solved with improved interfaces and predictive technology.

"In addition to keeping drivers' eyes on the road, we also need to consider the cognitive load new vehicle features, systems and consumer applications bring to drivers as well as the impact they have on concentration," Gebhardt said. "Cognitive overload impairs our ability to anticipate and respond to our environment. It's a big consideration when it comes to increasingly complex infotainment and cockpit systems."

Gebhardt said the fundamental issue is that the industry continues to project the phone and the tablet into the vehicle's centre console, despite the differences in how consumers use them. Critical information becomes available through too many sources and gathering it all in one place can be frustrating, time-consuming and even unsafe if it takes the driver's attention from the road.

"By a providing a holistic service-focused approach, which we've done with our OneConnect platform, we can merge the information so drivers are served up everything they want, when they want it, without searching," Gebhardt added.

The solution also uses predictive technology to synthesise repeated patterns of weekly travel and errands without the driver having to manually select weather, news, traffic and entertainment to complement the route.

Gebhardt said: "You program the system to your personal preference and the system will start to learn your habits, likes and dislikes, providing information verbally and letting the driver take appropriate actions seamlessly. It will understand time and place, so as you move from your house to your car, the vehicle becomes your environment rather than your home."

OneConnect also allows drivers to know the details of what a check-engine light means or order a sandwich from a favourite restaurant.

"The experience that's been missing is a way for consumers – through one single, intelligent feed – to easily assemble their own personal FM-like radio station that lets them discover the greatest variety of content and information that is most relevant to them and what they are doing at any given moment," said Gebhardt. "The hardest thing to do is create easy-to-use products, but that's what we're doing."

At the same time INRIX announced the integration of PayByPhone's on-street parking data and payment options into its end-to-end parking solution for the connected car. The partnership strengthens the prediction capabilities of INRIX On-Street Parking by adding historical and real-time parking payment information. It also increases coverage to INRIX's in-car payment solution in North America and Europe.

"PayByPhone plays a vital role in making INRIX On-Street Parking the highest quality service with the broadest coverage, and solidifies INRIX as the preferred end-to-end smart parking solution for the connected car," said Alex Israel, vice-president and general manager, parking at INRIX. "In an industry where the most accurate data and seamlessly integrated user experiences will win, INRIX Parking will give our OEM partners a critical edge over the competition."

"Our partnership with INRIX enables us to create an integrated solution for the connected car, allowing millions of consumers to easily and securely find and pay for parking right from their dashboard or companion app," said Kush Parikh, CEO of PayByPhone. "Like INRIX, our goal is to provide intelligent parking solutions, and we're excited that our high-quality data and payment services will be coming to cars very soon."

You can catch up with more in-depth coverage of TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 at WardsAuto and with our coverage of Day 2

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