Weekly Brief: Connected car concepts abound at Shanghai Auto Show

In this week’s Brief: Shanghai Auto show, Chevrolet, GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center, BAIC, Leshi Internet Information & Technology Co., Alibaba, BMW Mini, Jaguar Land Rover, Shanghai GM Motors, Harman, Baidu, Volvo, Huawei, Amazon, DHL, Audi, BMW and Masternaut.

Scantily clad women are out, the connected car is in. That’s the headline at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, where organisers and the Chinese government cracked down on the show’s racy female car models — dubbed “che mo” in Chinese — and replaced them with modestly dressed women and polo-clad men. The goal was to return the attention of the show’s expected 1-million visitors to the curves of the cars themselves.

And the cars didn’t disappoint, especially on the connected car concept front. Chevrolet debuted a self-driving electric vehicle mobile concept, the Chevrolet-FNR, which boasts crystal laser headlights and taillights, dragonfly dual swing doors, magnetic hubless wheel electric motors and a wireless auto-charge system. It’s a long shot this car will ever see the light of day at dealerships, but if this is a hint of the future, we’re all in for a treat (you can view a photo gallery here). The concept car includes sensors and roof-mounted radar that can map out the environment to enable driverless operation. The FNR was developed in Shanghai by GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC) joint venture.

Chinese carmaker BAIC unveiled another electric vehicle concept car, this one in partnership with Chinese internet firm Leshi Internet Information & Technology Co.. The EV features a Leshi auto user interface system akin to CarPlay or Android Auto. It also features adaptive cruise control, automatic parking, gesture recognition, and a next-gen in-dash infotainment system that builds on Leshi’s expertise in web-connected TVs.

“In the mobile Internet era, the auto industry is facing a huge revolution,” Leshi’s chairman and president Jia Yueting wrote on his microblog during the show. “The Chinese auto industry can subvert traditional European, American, Japanese and Korean giants.”

For the first time, the auto show included a whole conference agenda devoted to “Internet Car and Car Internet” with talks from leading thinkers in the space, including the president of the mobile group at Chinese search engine giant Alibaba. Alibaba is at work on a self-driving car and like other Chinese tech firms (Leshi and Baidu included) views the automobile as the future of the mobile space.

Alibaba also hosted a side event about automotive e-commerce, where it announced that it had reeled in three big fish for its e-commerce platform Tmail.com. BMW Mini will use Tmail.com for online Mini sales in China, as will Jaguar Land Rover and Shanghai GM Motors. Channeling its cross-seas rival Google, Alibaba is also at work on a self-driving car, although it didn’t have a prototype available for viewing at the side event.

Harman hosted its own side panel discussion, “Engineering the Connected Car,” which included the vice president of internet services company Baidu and other leaders from Volvo, Harman, and Huawei. On the exhibition floor, Harman displayed the latest version of its premium infotainment platform, which now features what it calls “intelligent connected navigation” for real-time routing and traffic updates. Over-the-air map and software updates ensure that the platform stays current with the quickly evolving electronics space.

Away from Shanghai, there were a couple interesting news items out of Germany last week. Amazon announced that it’s rolling out a pilot for Amazon Prime users that enables trunk deliveries. Wherever your car is, Amazon will deliver a package to it via a partnership with DHL. The pilot will focus on Audi cars in Munich, with DHL deliverers receiving GPS coordinates and one-time access codes to the Audi trunk in question. Amazon plans to take the service global if the pilot goes well.

BMW revealed that its new 7 Series line will come replete with connected car features, everything from active cruise control and lane assistance to remote control parking (a first for a mainstream vehicle). In terms of infotainment, the touch screen will be fully receptive to gesture controls, another first for BMW. You can check out the flashy preview video here.

Finally, in fleet telematics, a survey of 2,000 U.K. business drivers by Masternaut found that one out of six business drivers feels “invincible” on the road and never considers his or her safety to be at risk. This is problematic because statistics show that their safety and the safety of those around them should be an abiding concern; 86% of fleets in the U.K. have experienced collisions in the past 12 months, for example. 

“The tools and technology exist to help educate drivers on safe driving practises, which can be driven by the intelligent application of telematics,” says Steve Towe, Masternaut’s Chief Commercial Officer and U.K. Managing Director. “Telematics has broader social benefits that it can offer to protect our drivers, not just in terms of notifying us of a collision, but in preventive and proactive driver-centric applications designed to improve behaviour”.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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