Weekly Brief: Harman bets big on connected car with Symphony Teleca & Red Bend acquisitions

In this week’s Brief: Harman, Symphony Teleca, Red Bend, Google Open Automotive Alliance, Forbes, Digital Bond Labs, Progressive, Autoblog, Zubie, Fiat, Trak Global, Carrot, Zurich Insurance, Ford, Stanford, Capgemini, Mojio, AT&T and Hyundai.


Think the connected car is the wave of the future? How much would you be willing to wager on it? A thousand bucks? A million? Try a billion.

That’s how much Harman threw down last week in acquiring two software companies that focus on the connected car — Symphony Teleca for $780 million and Red Bend for $170 million. Harman is already an established player in the connected car space, with hardware solutions ranging from audio to infotainment, but clearly has intentions of expanding its footprint with more complete solutions and services, including over-the-air (OTA) upgrades, in which both Symphony Teleca and Red Bend have expertise.


“With the addition of cloud, mobility and analytics competencies, we will accelerate solutions for the connected car and for a broader set of industries and markets,” Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal said of the Symphony Teleca acquisition. He added, “This acquisition of Red Bend, a true pioneer in OTA and virtualization technologies for cyber security, adds a critical component to our automotive systems and services portfolio that will essentially future proof software in cars, ultimately making them safer, smarter and more efficient.”


In other news, it was a bumpy week in insurance telematics, as Forbes published an article detailing how researchers at Digital Bond Labs in Florida had hacked into Progressive’s Snapshot on-board diagnostic dongle, which about 2 million Americans presently use to power their usage-based insurance. In an interview with Autoblog, the CEO of DBL likened Snapshot to “a house that has no doors, no windows and no fences, with valuables inside.” The researchers claim that it is easy to extract firmware from the Snapshot dongle and then reverse engineer it so as to be able to unlock a car, start it or extract other important diagnostic information. Progressive says that it’s looking into the matter, although it emphasized that DML wasn’t able to actually control any car functions. Comforting. Recall that Zubie faced similar hacking claims last year.


Sticking with UBI, Fiat unveiled an interesting offering in the UK that bundles a brand-new car with comprehensive car insurance and servicing costs, all under the same fixed monthly payment. The car is the FIAT 500 1.2 Pop, and the insurance component is powered by a telematics device from Trak Global, run by rewards-based service provider Carrot, and underwritten by Zurich Insurance. Fiat is specifically targeting young drivers, who often struggle to be able to afford a new car due to prohibitively expensive insurance costs.


On the R&D front, Ford opened a Research and Innovation Center in Silicon Valley and says it will boast 125 researchers, engineers and scientists by year end (that would make it one of the largest carmaker research centers in the Valley). Located in Stanford Research Park, the center will focus on all things connectivity — from mobility to self-driving cars to big data. One of the first initiatives will be to contribute a Fusion Autonomous Research Vehicle to the Stanford engineering program to begin testing path planning-and-prediction algorithms that researchers have developed over the past year.


Meanwhile consulting firm Capgemini launched a virtual big data lab, the Automotive Insights Laboratory, that aims to help carmakers improve customer experience in car purchasing and aftermarket service. The lab leverages a global specialized team of consultants, analysts and data scientists who collate and dissect data in real-time to provide customer insights and predict future consumer behavior. The Automotive Insights Laboratory is part of Capgemini’s new AutomotiveConnect offer.


Mojio announced that its aftermarket solution — a plug-and-play device that works for both commercial and consumer users — is now available globally thanks to a new partnership with AT&T. AT&T’s global SIM will provide Mojio users borderless roaming. The move seems to be less about attracting new users in far-flung places than about giving existing users or new users in existing markets greater coverage for Mojio services. Travel anywhere and you’re still in business. “We believe people want their cars to be more like their smartphones, no matter what car they are driving or where they travel, and staying connected to your car is key to that,” says Jay Giraud, CEO, Mojio.


Finally, remember when CDs were the hottest new thing, and CDs in the dashboard of vehicles the ultimate sign of a technology-forward car? My how those days have passed. Hyundai revealed last week that it’s sending in-car CD players the way of the dodo and the cassette player. Hyundai’s new infotainment platform is called Display Audio and syncs with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On the music front, the platform includes SiriusXM and other music apps via a user’s smartphone, but no CD player. Display Audio will debut in 2016.


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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