Low-cost onboard navigation—at about 25% the price of existing OE-supplied systems—is being introduced in 2010 by Nissan on two North American-market entry-level econocars, Sentra and Versa. At $400 U.S., the system will be about the same price as Ford's Sync, which uses the driver's cell phone to obtain navigation and other data.
As the first low-cost navi to be integrated into the vehicle, the Nissan entry is likely to increase pricing and technology pressures on onboard systems using DVD and hard drives. It includes a rearview camera, which displays on the navigation screen when the transmission is in reverse.
Nissan's system joins the recently introduced Garmin GPS navi, a no-charge feature on the Suzuki Grand Vitara and SX4 Sport and Sportback.
The Nissan system, engineered in conjunction with Bosch, has only a 4.3-in screen but, as with the same-size Garmin/Suzuki device, the display is sharp and easy to read. A 4-GB SD card is the Nissan storage medium, saving cost and space over a DVD or hard drive and simplifying map updates. As with the Garmin used by Suzuki, the screen is a touch type for easy entry of destination data, and a "back" button on the module's control panel eliminates starting over completely in case of an error.
The Nissan/Bosch dashboard module includes Sirius satellite radio, so with a subscription it can deliver Sirius broadcasts plus "real-time traffic" and other data along the selected route.
The module also includes USB and headphone ports, and is an option over the basic display screen, IPod and Bluetooth connectivity, and Sirius satellite radio, which are standard equipment on Sentra. The USB port can be used for adding driver-selected point-of-interest (POI) data, downloaded from Internet sites.
Although the lower-priced Versa also can be equipped with $400 U.S. navigation, a $200 U.S. upgrade (primarily Sirius radio and USB) is required to be able to accept and integrate the full feature content of the system.
Turn-by-turn directions are displayed as on-screen text or by voice through the vehicle sound system. Because the module is integrated with the vehicle's data network, the GPS-derived distances are adjusted when necessary by vehicle signals for greater accuracy than GPS-alone navi, said Mark Perry, Nissan Americas Director of Product planning. The Suzuki/Garmin system has only GPS.
Nissan's tentative plan is to have owners remove the SD card and update map data through a PC from a website, although the details have yet to be worked out, a Nissan spokesman said.
The low option price of the Sentra/Versa system represents Nissan's first response to an issue raised nearly three years ago by Larry Dominique, Vice President of Nissan Americas product planning. He said then that the cost of onboard navigation systems, with large screens and using DVDs or hard drives, was unacceptably high vs. the hand-held navigation modules people were buying. Therefore, he added, Nissan would not offer the onboard option in lower-priced models at that time.
Suzuki's navi offers online Garmin updates of the map via its USB port (after detaching the Garmin module from its cradle), and some included POI data. Additional memory is available via a plug-in SD card.
As with the Nissan/Bosch unit, web-offered POI data also can be downloaded into the Garmin module via USB. However, instead of Sirius, Suzuki has been offering MSN Direct, a Microsoft product that transmits news, weather, gas prices, real-time traffic (in 134 North American cities) and other data on a hitherto unused FM spectrum.
Although navi itself is free on the designated models, MSN Direct and Bluetooth are included only in higher trim level models, which are up to $1250 more in the U.S. A navi/data combination is in a trim level option package on the SX4 Crossover and Equator pickup.
However, MSN Direct has not been a business success and will be discontinued by Microsoft on Jan. 1, 2012. Recognizing that, Suzuki includes a one-year subscription free on applicable models and in 2011 will sell a Garmin-supplied alternative, possibly based on nu-Link, the cellular data connection feature now available in some Garmin hand-helds. NuLink currently delivers some Internet content, including "Google local," fuel prices, movie theater information, flight status, white pages, and local events, with real-time traffic to become available. Suzuki also plans to offer a solution for owners of systems made obsolete, possibly a retrofit kit for the data delivery source it chooses.
Sentra/Versa and Suzuki screens are smaller than the ones in the $1500-$2000 U.S. systems that have been on the market, and the low-priced Bosch and Garmin module-based systems don't provide all the bells and whistles of the premium-priced ones—no voice recognition and activation, automatic 911 calls with airbag deployment, maintenance reminders, or other displays. But the most-wanted features are there now, with the technology moving fast, and these are just the beginning.