Building Connected Ecosystems for Branded Revenue Streams

The automotive industry continues its slow trudge towards autonomous technology. Yet, this is the time carmakers are busy considering how best to create and nurture innovative content ecosystems that enable them to keep pace and remain relevant in the autonomous future. In doing so, they are adopting a variety of technological and organizational strategies in an effort to retain control and profitability.

Content strategies

According to Lee Colman, director of research and consulting at SBD Automotive, four key content ecosystem strategies are emerging.  The first is ‘display audio’, where content and logic are enabled via the user’s smartphone, providing a low-cost in-vehicle solution that automakers have full control over.  However, every content integration must be commissioned and maintained by the manufacturer and Colman observes that there is virtually no existing ecosystem of developers and content to tap into, so the curation of content and maintenance of the experience requires continuous investment from the carmaker.  The second strategy, ‘screen duplication’, provides automakers with a rich ecosystem of content and developers to maintain and innovate at what Colman describes as virtually no expense to the R&D department.

“The flip-side is the difficulty to differentiate in the screen-duplicated part of the UX and to seamlessly integrate it to the rest of the infotainment package.  Despite the drawbacks about loss of brand identity, screen duplication is likely to be present in 50% of vehicles over the next five years in US and EU markets,” he says.

The third strategy centers on ‘native services’ from Google, which Colman predicts will find their way into an increasing number of automaker infotainment solutions owing to consumer demand and relative ease of integration for the manufacturer.  Although there is some opportunity for carmakers to harmonize their other services with proprietary content and UX, he also observes that the sheer scale of investment from the Google ecosystem will lead some brands to accept the native apps, even the journey-centric ones, as they are off-the-shelf.  Finally, Colman points out that ‘proprietary infotainment’, where content is curated and integrated by the automaker to their own brand’s preferences, still has a place in the vehicle line-up for most manufacturers.

“We’ll see automotive Tier 1’s, especially those with cloud capability, making it easier for OEMs to harness the power of off-the-shelf content integrations with third party providers in ways that are unique to the OEM’s UX style over the next five years, often teamed with in-vehicle marketplaces aimed at journey convenience,” he says


Another increasingly popular approach taken by carmakers is to use the SmartDeviceLink (SDL) platform to enable them to forge relationships with content developers or service providers.  As Paul Elsila, coordinator at the SmartDeviceLink Consortium, explains, with SDL, automakers can grant vehicle data access to an application to provide content or a service.

Through the SDL Policy Server, they can then maintain control of what vehicle data an application has access to, and how that application behaves in their vehicle. “By providing this control to the OEM, they can create unique relationships with third parties that can help deliver an AV experience,” says Elsila.

The open source SDL project is governed by the consortium, composed of automakers, suppliers, integraters and content providers who work together to define the direction and priorities for the SDL project.  According to Elsila, the structure of the consortium benefits the members by allowing automakers to share the cost of development for important features that benefit the ecosystem and promoting industry collaboration in the direction of connectivity.

“SDL connects in-vehicle infotainment systems to applications, allows automakers to provide highly integrated connected experiences and offers app developers new and exciting ways to connect with consumers,” he says. “SDL allows OEMs to maintain a branded experience with connected content and enables them to grant vehicle data access to app developers and provide customer privacy controls.  It also enables an OEM relationship directly with app developers,” he adds.

In Colman’s view, SDL carves an interesting proposition for automakers because it promises the advantages of a shared developer/content ecosystem.  Even so, he argues that the relatively small addressable market for app/content developers compared to high-volume screen duplication means that the level of innovation, maintenance and investment is still going to be higher for the carmaker than for other ecosystems. “On the plus side, SDL does provide the OEM with control of the UX, so for OEMs seeking very focused content sets this can be appropriate,” he says.

Innovation battle

Because of the sheer size of the market, Colman predicts that, over the next few years, developers will continue to innovate first on high volume platforms like AA/CP, and Google will still pour significant investment into Google Automotive Services running natively in the car.  He also believes that SDL, along with other semi-open and proprietary ecosystems will remain the preferred option by some carmakers owing to the level of control over the UX they provide.

“However, with these ecosystems it’s down to the OEMs to invest heavily to keep up with Google.  As we enter a new phase of services becoming ever-more personalized and predictive, it will be the ecosystems that have access and consent from users to use data from their digital lives to build intelligence into the consumer experience. This is where the innovation battle between OEMs and the tech giants will really start to play out,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Elsila believes that SDL has the potential to become a leading technology in the automotive industry and predicts that, as more automakers launch with SDL and more content developers integrate it into their applications, the ecosystem will continue to grow, which will give consumers a variety of content and services available in the vehicle.

“To date, Ford, Toyota, Daihatsu and Suzuki support SDL enabled vehicles regionally and globally.  The consortium is also anticipating launches by our additional members in the near future,” he adds.

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