Weekly Brief: Google signals the end of carmakers’ control over the dashboard

Google launched version 2.0 of Android Auto and, in doing so, put the automotive aftermarket on high alert. The updated app now makes Android Auto available directly on smartphones. That means that users no longer need any factory-installed technology in their dashboards to use Android Auto.

Now users can just plant their phones on their dashboards, open the app and up pops a driver-friendly Android Auto interface, with large buttons and streamlined access to phone, navigation and email in order to minimise driver distraction.

All drivers have to do is go to the Google Play App Store and download version 2.0 for free. That's great news for drivers and terrible news for the automotive aftermarket, which thrives on the notion that consumers will pay good money for connected car features and services that carmakers have failed to build into the factory model. Free apps have already been eating away at that business model but never have we seen a comprehensive dashboard solution so easily available at the tap of a free app on a phone. Expect Apple CarPlay to soon follow suit.

In other news, Nissan launched a digital car-sharing programme that encourages consumers to buy a new Nissan Micra as part of a group of four or five people. These four or five people will then share the cost of the vehicle, with each paying a fair price each month proportional to their usage. Nissan will match compatible users based on location and profile similarities in a social app. Once the group has formed, the app will allow the members to coordinate usage. No word yet on buy-in price but we do know that Nissan will launch the sign-up site for the Nissan Intelligent Get & Go Micra programme next month and that the first shared cars should be on the road in Paris come springtime 2017.

Uber and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched a research initiative to explore how car- and ride-sharing networks could reshape the future of urban mobility. The research will collect and analyse data from cities around the world to explore the effect of a city’s size on its ability to handle sharing. They'll also examine whether it's easier to share a trip in a large city or small city and if social, economic and cultural aspects influence mobility patterns and thus sharing potential.

BMW unveiled the MINI Vision Next 100, a concept car that lays out a vision for how to personalise cars in the era of car-sharing. Thanks to autonomous driving, people can summon the car to their location with the tap of a smartphone. The car then adapts itself to each user with a personal greeting, interior lighting that matches the driver's mood and an engine that can adapt to different driving styles. Drivers can experience the driving styles of family, friends and celebrities with one press of the “Inspire Me” button. You can check out a video here.

T-Mobile took dead aim at Verizon’s aftermarket device, Hum, with the debut of T-Mobile SyncUP DRIVE. The device plugs into the on-board diagnostics port to provide a rolling 4G WiFi hotspot in the car. It tracks driving behaviour like speeding, harsh braking and rapid accelerations so users can drive more safely and save more fuel. It also allows users to track the whereabouts of family (i.e. keep an eye on teenage drivers). Like Hum, the device works out to about $10 (£8) per month after a 24-month contract agreement.

Volkswagen wants to make its most popular range of cars, the VW Golf, its most connected. The 2017 Golf line-up will include a new generation of infotainment systems with larger touchscreens and gesture control in top-of-the-line models. The systems will display navigation information in 2D or 3D. VW has also updated the Golf’s advanced driver assistance systems to include City Emergency Braking with a new Pedestrian Monitoring function and partially automated driving at speeds of up to 60 km/h.

Finally, Tesla announced that it will acquire one of Germany’s premier auto engineering firms, Grohmann Engineering, in an attempt to boost production. Grohmann specialises in highly automated manufacturing and will become Tesla’s Advanced Automation facility, where it will harness machines to make machines at an affordable price. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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

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