Ford, GM and Toyota each announced major new efforts at the CES show in Las Vegas aimed at growing the market for connected automobiles, news that likely will boost the prospects of wireless carrier executives hoping to cash in on mobile communications to and from motorists' vehicles. But the announcements from the world's largest auto makers also appear to put distance between their products and the auto efforts from tech companies like Google and Apple.
In their various announcements, Ford, Toyota and GM each promised to add more wireless connections and capabilities into their vehicles. But the auto makers also appeared intent on retaining a degree of control over their users' experiences.
First up, Ford made several announcements it said were part of its Ford Smart Mobility program, "the plan to take Ford to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics." Specifically, the company said it would triple its fleet of fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicles; that it would explore linking smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Wink to its vehicles; and that it would begin offering support for Apple's CarPlay technology and Google's Android Auto platform starting this year. In general, the announcements represent a boost to AT&T, which supplies much of the connectivity in Ford's new cars.
Although Ford said it will offer CarPlay and Android Auto, the Verge noted the manufacturer also said it would continue to promote its own AppLink platform for developers to create apps for motorists.
Thus, Ford appears to be hedging its bets among auto platforms from a variety of suppliers.
However, Ford did not announce a partnership with Google, as had been rumored prior to the start of this year's CES show. The absence of Google in Ford's CES presentation may reflect a wider concern among auto makers that tech companies like Google, Apple and Tesla are encroaching on their turf.
Separately, Toyota announced it would deploy a telematics system using the Ford-developed SmartDeviceLink (SDL) platform. SDL is an open source platform for smartphone apps and car connectivity where customers can use apps in their vehicle through voice recognition function and operation panel.
Toyota's embrace of SDL appears to stand as a rejection of Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto -- as well as the rival MirrorLink platform -- since Toyota remains the world's largest maker of automobiles.
Interestingly, Toyota also announced its new "connected vehicle framework" that the company said will be anchored by its new Data Communication Module (DCM). The company said its DCM will "connect Toyota vehicles to cellular telecommunications networks, expanding the ability to transmit data for products and services." However, the company didn't provide details on its DCM, including which cellular providers would support the gadget.
Finally, GM expanded its own connected car efforts at CES with the announcement of a $500 million investment into ride-sharing company Lyft. As part of the investment, GM and Lyft said they will work on developing an on-demand network of self-driving cars -- an area of research where companies like Google, Tesla and Uber are investing.
Not surprisingly, connected cars represent a growth market for wireless carriers. Indeed, AT&T in the third quarter said that nearly two-thirds of its wireless customer growth came from connected devices, including connected cars. Specifically, AT&T reported a record 1.6 million connected device subscriber additions, including 1 million connected cars, during the period.
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