SEMA sees cooperation on telematics, infotainment

  • 10-Feb-2009 05:08 EST
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Ford's SYNC is compatible with most cell phones, iPods, and MP3 music players. It has been updated to offer automatic 911 calls with airbag deployment, vehicle "health" reports, and turn-by-turn navigation via an enabled cell phone.

There are 220 million vehicles on American roads. Even if sales average 15 million a year, widespread deployment of telematics and infotainment is far off unless OEMs and aftermarket companies cooperate more effectively to facilitate integration of add-on electronic feature content. That was the theme of a pair of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) seminars led by John Waraniak, SEMA Vice President of Vehicle Technology, during Automotive Aftermarket International Week 2008.

Such cooperation, it seems, is already happening. David Acton, President of the Transformation Network and a former General Motors telematics executive, told a SEMA seminar audience that the once-adversarial relationship between the aftermarket and OEMs in telematics/infotainment is disappearing—that vehicle manufacturers are using open architecture and just a few common data busses. And in addition to OEM gateways, he noted that the aftermarket can add others.

Further, Acton pointed to the BMW-led initiative, NGTP (Next Generation Telematics Protocol), a technology-neutral approach to the delivery of all telematics, although it's currently focused on WiFi, VoIP, and UMTS-3G (cellular). NGTP would feature a dispatcher system that routes vehicle request signals to the appropriate service provider and then transmits the requested service (data and/or voice) back to the vehicle. BMW says NGTP will be its next-generation telematics protocol.

Michael Blicher, Automotive Business Development Director of Immersion Corp., a haptics technology company, noted that 2009 models are compatible with popular applications: 82% with Bluetooth, 33% with USB ports, 58% with iPod, and 33% with Zune. However, performance of devices may depend on the OEM onboard software. In the cases cited, OEMs made compatibility decisions that aftermarket manufacturers cannot necessarily expect for their products.

Blicher pointed out that only 3% of vehicle customization occurs at time of purchase, with another 35% in the first three weeks and a total of 82% in the first two years after purchase. That is an opportunity for the aftermarket, which also seeks open OEM architecture and accepted industry standards through the AECC (Automotive Electronics Connectivity Committee). However, the fast pace of electronic feature development makes the aftermarket's ability to deal with legacy vehicles critical and also creates the need for vehicle update capability.

Encouraging news came from Chris Cook, a director of NAV-TV, an aftermarket infotainment marketer. He said his company had been able to develop its newest backup camera kits so they are recognized by almost all vehicles with an OEM-installed LCD monitor, including Ford's new SYNC, a telematics/infotainment system based on Microsoft Windows CE/Auto.

Aaron Lowe, Vice President, Government Affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, told seminar attendees that telematics has the potential to help the aftermarket service industry by capturing diagnostic information. However, he is concerned with the success of OEM systems, such as OnStar, in using remote diagnosis and maintenance reminders to drive motorists to car dealers.

Some SEMA member manufacturers and marketers have concerns about being able to engineer products for maximum-function integration. The overall problem is long-standing, and to date, most aftermarket manufacturers have relied on any or all of three approaches: interface modules and/or aftermarket-developed reprogramming tools, hard wiring, or stand-alone installations. On most cars, even iPod and Bluetooth require adapter kits (which also may include GPS).

"Plug-and-play" offers the lowest cost, is usually most trouble-free, and is what aftermarket manufacturers obviously would prefer, but it is rarely a capability they can provide. Larger wheels and tires are traditional SEMA show stars, but their installations affect transmission shift points, speedometer and odometer readings, and possibly emissions. For some vehicles, there is new OEM software (if the tire size is offered as a dealer-installed option); however, others need aftermarket speedometer adapters or even aftermarket-developed reflashing of the vehicle computer.

Most OEM and aftermarket telematics/infotainment companies recognize Windows CE/Auto or Wind River Linux and also can work with such vehicle networks as MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport), ISO 9141, and CAN. However, there is enough variation, including different speed CAN and different message units, to limit plug-and-play capability.

The first in-car television is Sirius Satellite Radio's rear-seat TV for 2008-on Chrysler minivans, but it offers just three children's programming channels. Scheduled for aftermarket introduction this year is AT&T's CruiseCast, a satellite transmission system offering 22 TV channels and 20 radio stations, priced at about $1300 plus $28 monthly. It will plug into any rear DVD system, the company claims.

A candidate standard for digital TV in mobile devices has been approved by ASTC (Advanced Systems Television Committee), so after industry feedback and revision, it could enable free mobile reception, similar to what is available at home. Visteon, working with LG Electronics, Zenith, and Harris Corp., has been demonstrating a prototype system based on this standard.

Internet access currently is available as a stand-alone cellular system that turns the moving vehicle into an Internet hot spot. Autonet, which exhibited this system at the SEMA Show, is offering it both through the aftermarket and through Chrysler dealers as an aftersale accessory.

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