Hold your horses, connectivity is the real power now


Talking to senior executives after spending a blisteringly hot afternoon cruising the mountain roads of Catalonia in Spain, it became clear that a car’s connectivity offering could be a seriously powerful marketing tool.

These SEAT executives felt sure that, as the technology gains traction among customers more interested in lifestyle functions provided inside the cabin rather than the 56.6mpg and 130g/km of CO2 emission ratings from the 2.0-litre TDI 150PS motor under the bonnet, tailoring connectivity packages to the brand’s target audience will be vital.

In this way, while the Alhambra MPV shares almost everything of its external visuals with its Volkswagen cousin the Sharan, its technology in future could be increasingly different to suit the brand’s less conservative customers.

Dr Matthias Rabe, SEAT executive vice-president for research and development said as much in a statement released during the new Alhambra’s launch last week in Barcelona.

He said: “Connectivity is a central innovation topic for SEAT. We use it to combine the latest applications with an operating concept that ensures the best possible driving safety.

“The Alhambra stays at the very forefront with its further improved fuel consumption and emissions figures. With its new technologies, it provides the best possible combination of dynamic driving fun and excellent comfort.”

While it’s possible to question just how much “fun” a driver will have ferrying a gaggle of up to six passengers around in what remains a big-old-bus of a vehicle, even one with three driving modes provided by its Dynamic Chassis suspension altering technology, there’s no doubting its array of cutting edge connectivity.

The Alhambra’s MirrorLink promises smartphone compatibility for all phone makes and works with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

As the names suggests, the elements of the smartphone operating interface are “mirrored” on the infotainment system’s touchscreen.

While MirrorLink can be found on other carmakers’ products, exclusive to SEAT is a cooperation with Samsung for the development of connectivity solutions. The first step in this partnership sees the introduction of a Samsung smartphone with the pre-installed SEAT ConnectApp.

“This cooperation is a meaningful deal for Samsung and SEAT’s collaboration for the latest in-car integration of technology and future concepts,” said Rick Segal, vice-president of mobile communication division.

While undoubtedly hi-tech, the connection to the car is comparatively old-school through a single USB connection so only one devise can be hooked up to car while other manufacturers, such as Audi, allow up to seven devices to use the car’s wifi hotspot with wireless connection.

One executive pointed out that SEAT is, as yet, not convinced wireless is yet robust enough to fend off interference both from inside and outside the vehicle and that’s why the old USB wire was chosen for the Alhambra.

The new SEAT Connect App will be available before the end of the year and its one central function is the “Read to me” and “Voice Repy". This text reading function converts incoming messages from the likes of e-mail, text messaging, Facebook or Twitter accounts into speech played through the car’s hi-fi system. Drivers can therefore dictate replies without having to take their eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel.

While multi-tasking drivers may find this an asset, there’ll be many more ‘focused’ drivers who will view this invasion of their space nothing more than an added distraction – as anyone who has had to ‘craft’ a written reply on a Dictaphone will know all too well.

There is also a gesture control feature where functions, such as calls or contact addresses can be called up on the touchscreen using brief finger gestures.

The welcome screen in the SEAT ConnectApp delivers information such as the current weather forecast or appointments from a Facebook account, all of which can be tailored to user preferences. For the Smart Tips feature, the app learns individual preferences such as frequently used destinations and can provide appointment reminders. And regular over-the-air updates will refresh the system over time.

SEAT claims data security is guaranteed because the backend of the ConnectApp saves only e-mail address and the vehicle specification with all other personal data left on the owner’s smartphone.

Perhaps it’s this belief that SEAT’s future plans with connectivity will be the market differentiator that its main efforts are leaning towards developing the technology rather than striving to make the vehicle very much different in looks, or in price, from its Volkswagen Group cousins.

Get the latest update on Connected Mobility at TU-Automotive Europe this November in Stuttgart – Europe's leading connected car event. 



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