A look inside

  • 08-Feb-2012 01:31 EST

Continental's Helmut Matschi

As Head of the Interior Division at Continental AG and Member of the Executive Board, Helmut Matschi oversees a range of technology areas for the supplier, including the Instrumentation & Driver HMI (human-machine interface), Infotainment & Connectivity, Body & Security, and Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket business units. Matschi shared his insights on some of the trends impacting vehicle interiors with AEI’s Ryan Gehm and other select media this past fall in Frankfurt.

What are some of the main trends looking ahead?

There are so many things looking toward the future. After connected cars and HMI, the third one is about electric vehicles. When thinking on electric vehicles, the majority might say, ‘Oh, that’s an area mainly of powertrain and new types of batteries.’ When thinking a bit more, then we see that information management is so very important for electric vehicles because your range is quite close compared to your combustion engine car… So you want to be informed how long you can drive. You want to know when you arrive somewhere, will it be possible to drive home? Again, HMI, we need to provide it for you so you can feel comfortable and safe. This is why we say for electric vehicles, the performance of information management is a decisive factor whether there is a good acceptance of these vehicles or not.

With the amount of information available with EVs, how do you decide what to show while avoiding information overload?

Basic principles will always be regulating what kind of information you have in the primary field of vision, like in the head-up display. But for the rest, how would it be that you could adjust by yourself the amount and the kind of information you would like? On the one hand, there is information which we might want to provide you, even if you don’t want to see it right now, but we say, ‘Hey, you better know it because somewhere in the future it is necessary for you.’ We also could follow your interests and say, ‘Okay, we can judge by your previous driving and previous interests that this can be taken seriously,’ and [decide] what we can do with it in order not to overload.

How important is this type of personalization within the vehicle?

This is not only the far-ahead future, this personalization is now… I remember 10 years ago, talking with a leader at an OEM; he said, ‘Helmut, when I’m reaching home in the evening, my dog is greeting me, every day. But my car, it is not reacting to me at all.’ That’s when I said, let’s work on this. So with voice recognition, for example, working on the natural language recognition [is important], but a step beyond that, is it possible to realize before you say anything, what you might want? And have a look on passive start and entry systems: It is now possible not only to detect the key outside of the car but to adjust the driver seat and the infotainment system to the settings the driver is very likely to enjoy again.

With phone apps and various other aftermarket products, how do you account for such connectivity within your products?

We are at a major point and that [consumer electronics] industry is changing a lot, so we have to ask, ‘What is the whole value chain?’ Because it’s not only like a supplier delivering a product to the car manufacturer; it is right now a network of partners that is out there delivering such a system. Different companies are doing certain bits and parts of the solution… The importance for us is to keep very close to the consumer electronics industry. When someone thinks, ‘Yes, we can work and bring everything to a standard,’ we can forget about it. Why? Because once we try to get the different industry members to the first meeting, the next guys are already out there—be it on the product side or the software side—coming up with new ideas. It’s very dynamic.

What is Continental doing in terms of open connectivity within the vehicle?

We entertain a huge group taking care for interoperability of mobile devices. It is very often the subject that for such new devices, you even might not get out of the consumer electronic industry a specification in the right manner like it’s quite normally used in automotive. This is something we need to bridge from this consumer world to the automotive world… It is clear that OEMs are thinking about, ‘What do I want to do with my own portal?’ I think in the Internet world, we see this democratization of information. [Proprietary systems] won’t work in the long term. As we saw with navigation, some 10 years ago it was a very attractive business because it was new and a very high-skilled area, but now it is an application which is free of charge because the business model is quite another. We fully think that these open-sourced [systems] will in the end be the winner, and it shows that different sectors really need to collaborate. Therefore, we are doing a lot toward this goal.

Could you provide an example?

We have right now in production the very first Internet-linked solution, what we call AutoLinQ. [Continental is working with several partners including Inrix, Navigon, Navteq, Secunet, SVOX, and Ygomi to develop the complete value chain for AutoLinQ.] This is realized and brought into production for the first time in the world in China—not in Europe, not in North America—it was in China [with a Chinese OEM and currently for the Chinese market only]. This shows how global that world is and how it is driving us forward.

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