Weekly Brief: Telematics heats up in China

In this week’s Brief: Volkswagen, OnStar, Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, SAIC Motor Corp, BMW, People’s Insurance Co of China, Shell Group, MapmyIndia, Tata Motors and TomTom.

As the Chinese auto industry continues to boom, Western automakers continue to push in and bring telematics with them. Last week Volkswagen became the latest automaker to launch its dedicated telematics platform, Car-Net, in the Chinese market.

VW debuted Car-Net in the West last year, with a full roll-out at the start of 2014. The system is similar to GM’s OnStar in that it provides comprehensive roadside assistance and crash notification bundled with connectivity features like in-vehicle navigation, remote vehicle status and remote lock/unlock. A mobile app and web portal enable the remote access features.

In China, VW says Car-Net will be available through the RNS 315 navigation and infotainment unit, with services like eCall emergency assistance, parking and weather apps and roadside breakdown help offered for free for a maximum four-year period.

Elsewhere in China, news circulated that national Internet behemoths Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, are all plunging into the infotainment game. Alibaba and SAIC Motor Corp, a Chinese automaker based out of Shanghai, unveiled a so-called “Internet Car” that will integrate Alibaba’s YunOS smartphone operating system and cloud-computing technologies into SAIC’s existing diagnostics, infotainment and navigation platform.

Baidu teamed up with BMW to host a hackathon in Shanghai that encouraged developers to build in-car apps via Baidu’s Light App platform. The goal was to create a more powerful bond between auto OEMs, internet providers, and developers to help fuel the connected car. The winning team presented a navigation app with a street view component that allowed drivers to see a real-time stream of the road ahead.

Tencent meanwhile partnered up with insurance juggernaut People’s Insurance Co of China and Shell Group to launch a usage-based insurance device, the Lubao box, which displays the current status of the car, runs routine diagnostics checks, offers advice on fuel-saving techniques, and funnels all that information to the insurance company for potential discounts and cost savings. The primary display mechanism for the system is the Lubao smartphone app.

In India, MapmyIndia launched Buzz, a customizable, rear-seat infotainment unit loaded with navigation, social location apps, and entertainment options. The Android device includes video chat, movies, social networking and email and can be set to provide location based information of a user’s choice, like weather, news and recommendations, points of interest and speed alerts.

Indian automaker Tata Motors announced that its new Zest model will come with an infotainment unit with full smartphone integration. The touchscreen controls the multimedia system and the AC, while harnessing smartphones for everything from music to SMS messages to email to navigation.

Finally, TomTom relaunched its START range with new features like lifetime maps and advanced lane guidance. The device also offers the Route Bar, which shows precise navigation and speed camera information on the road ahead. The device is available in-store and online from €139.95.

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