Weekly Brief: Ford rolls out eyes-free Siri to 5M vehicles

Have an iPhone? Drive a Ford? Siri eyes-free capability is coming your way this holiday season over-the-air. Ford’s new software update for MyFord Touch is available for all 5M SYNC-equipped vehicles dating back to the 2011 model year. It allows iPhone users to activate Siri with a press of the voice recognition button on the steering wheel. Drivers will be able to send and receive text messages, make phone calls to contacts in their address book, get directions through Apple Maps, select and play music and set reminders and alarms — all by voice.

Back at the LA Auto Show, Ford unveiled plans to roll out a fully embedded telematics system called SYNC Connect, similar to OnStar, with lots of remote functionality. It may signal a change of course for the carmaker, although the MyFord Touch update suggests that Ford won’t be writing off its smartphone-based infotainment platform anytime soon. The Siri update is voluntary. Video here.

In other news, HERE added traffic warnings to its real-time traffic service. Based on real-time traffic probe data, the safety warnings alert drivers to sudden stops in upcoming traffic, before drivers can see a traffic jam forming. The feature is one in a string of recent add-ons aimed at differentiating HERE from competitors like TomTom and Google Maps. Last week HERE also introduced geo-fencing to its HERE Platform for Business. Back in November, it added lane-level traffic reports.

Carloudy announced a Kickstarter campaign for an aftermarket head-up display that projects directions, weather, speed limits, local businesses and maintenance alerts onto the windshield of any car. That’s big because HUDs have typically been the domain of luxury cars. Mercedes-Benzes. BMWs. This device is compatible with any car, connects wirelessly to smartphones and lasts up to two weeks on a single charge. Pre-order is $179 (£119), MSRP $259. Video here.

BMW UKlaunched BMW Retail Online, a sales platform that allows consumers to select, finance and purchase their cars entirely online — not a single trip to a dealership required. Users can arrange test drives if they wish. Back at the LA Auto Show, we saw Volvo experimenting with Microsoft and HoloLens for a virtual reality car-buying experience. These all may turn out to be more gimmicks than long-term trends, but clearly the more connected cars become, the more keen carmakers are to sell those cars in innovative, mobile optimised ways.

On the fleet front, MAN Truck & Bus signed a deal with telematics provider Microlise to deploy a next-generation fleet management platform to the Middle East and Africa. Dubbed MAN EcoStyle, the solution addresses the standard suite of fleet-management concerns — increased safety, greater fuel efficiency, reduced vehicle wear and tear — with a particular focus on improving driving standards, one of the biggest concerns for fleet operators in the Middle East. MAN and Microlise already have an existing partnership in the UK.

TomTom is finally launching its WEBFLEET fleet management platform in Chile and Mexico — this after acquiring Spanish fleet management provider Coordina back in 2013, which already had infrastructure established in both countries. Mexico City is the second most congested large city in the world and Santiago de Chile has declared an environmental emergency because of smog, so TomTom expects demand to be high in both countries.

Finally, what’s the average customer’s experience with fleet telematics? Not too hot according to a new phone survey of 50 UK fleet operators with 60% saying they can’t easily access or retrieve vehicle data; more claimed that the user experience was so poor as to leave many features unusable. Granted, this survey was conducted by AGM (a telematics provider) marketing its own solution but that doesn’t guarantee a skewed result. Two weeks ago we reported that European fleet telematics is projected to double between now and 2019. Certainly quality and customer satisfaction will have a say in determining that.

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

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