Telematics Watch

Roger C. Lanctot

Global Automotive Leadership Lives on in Motor City

The technology marriage of Ford and Microsoft, unlikely though it seems, will serve as the most enduring memory of 2008 in the auto industry – outside of the sales collapse and bailout. Long after the industry has recovered, car makers and their suppliers will view Ford’s embrace of the Sync solution as a critical turning point.
As the industry prepares for the latest annual installment of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 8-11, the short-term outlook could not be much more grim. In spite of a surfeit of innovation, consumers are simply not buying cars and OEMs are experiencing a world of hurt preventing them from supporting emerging technologies and new suppliers.
The global automotive industry has forever looked to the U.S. for direction and innovation. Without Washington’s help, this industry leadership might have been lost.
In spite of the gloom, Microsoft and Ford will once again grab the spotlight at CES highlighting automotive technology advancements that may finally slice through the dark clouds. With mobile electronics sales in a swoon, Microsoft and Ford are in an ideal position to show the industry a path to salvation.
Many new solutions from new suppliers will be on display at CES, but the logjam created by weak consumer demand is likely to translate to failure and frustration for many. In the current climate, technology companies need to pursue opportunities on a global scale in order to achieve sufficient volumes. The good news is that CES remains a powerful international platform for introducing new solutions.
But the importance of the marriage of Ford and Microsoft must not be underestimated, nor can its role at CES be overstated. Ford is one of a handful of car companies with global reach.
While not previously known as a technology leader, the partnership between Microsoft and Ford delivers instant legitimacy to both Ford and Microsoft. Ford gains from its association with Microsoft and its industry-standard computer solutions. Microsoft benefits from bringing low-cost automotive technology solutions to a wide motoring audience – a strategy first tested in Europe with the Fiat Blue&Me connectivity platform.
The power of the partnership was made most clear from Microsoft’s advertising campaign in support of Ford Sync. In many of the ads for this Bluetooth-USB connectivity system there was no mention of Ford! It was all about the technology. As an exclamation point on the effort, Ford is projected to announce the one-millionth vehicle delivered to a customer with Ford Sync technology.
Over the past 2-3 years, an increasing number of car makers from around the world have made a point of attending CES, as have their suppliers. Some of these companies – including Ford, General Motors and BMW in 2008 – have used CES as a platform for establishing their technology credentials.
This same pattern will be fulfilled in 2009 with Ford, BMW, GM and Hyundai making presentations, showing their vehicles and generally seeking to benefit from any positive buzz thrown off by the event. In fact, Microsoft is deeply embedded with Hyundai, which means the Redmond-based software supplier is working closely with three of the top 10 car makers in the world spanning Europe, Asia-Pacific and North American markets.
Though not a Microsoft partner, it is important to note BMW’s participation at CES. While the company may be the pre-eminent automotive technology leader, it simply does not make enough cars to lead the industry.
This is the point that is perhaps lost on the average observer of the proposed Washington bailouts for the U.S. auto industry. Today, U.S. car makers still account for a substantial percentage of worldwide vehicle production. GM and its OnStar unit are still the world’s leading telematics supplier. Without support from Washington this volume leadership and its implications for industry leadership will be lost.
Watch for significant announcements for mobile electronics at CES ranging from rearseat entertainment to OnStar-like telematics or simple Bluetooth connectivity, but amidst the hoopla remember the role and impact of U.S. car makers.

December 30th, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments