On the eve of the Los Angeles Auto Show, GM announced three user-friendly infotainment products that may well give Ford a few headaches. Available soon on some of Chevrolet’s most affordable cars, there’s an integrated and inexpensive navigation iPhone app, Siri EyesFree interface, and an upgraded version of Chevrolet’s MyLink that includes an Apple-like customized screen design.
For a solid five years now, GM has watched Ford gain sales and goodwill based on two things. One, it did not take the government bailout money in 2008 and, two, Ford has successfully marketed its in-car connectivity in its lower-end, more affordable cars. Marketing executives at both brands have fired verbal shots across their respective bows via the automotive press, downright bad-mouthing one another in the war to win back the nation’s confidence in American car brands.
And after Ford spent years touting its technology to win over young buyers, its quality ratings dipped for the past two years of J.D. Power and Associate’s Initial Quality Survey (IQS). The complaints were centered on its MyFordTouch system that controls the entertainment and climate systems in Ford and Lincoln vehicles. Complaints covered everything from a confusing interface, to unresponsive voice commands, to the fear that the system distracted them while driving. The resulting IQS score sank Ford in the rankings from No. 7 to a low No. 28.
Although this has been a setback, it has not slowed down Ford’s technology push one bit. Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president for global marketing, told Automotive News that the Ford brand has hung its hat on its connectivity.
“Technology is one of the main reasons why people see us differently now today than they did just a few years ago,” Farley said. So it was only a matter of time until GM caught up.
GM infotainment goes for mainstream acceptance
Not to be outdone, the largest American carmaker is attempting a “leap-frog” of technology offerings via its dominant Chevrolet brand. Its three new technology applications will begin to appear on Chevrolet vehicles coming to market in 2013.
In theory, these systems are right in the pocket of a generation who have Steve Jobs as a role model and Apple iPhones in their pockets. Time will tell if the products prove to be easier to operate than Ford’s current systems, but GM has certainly made some milestone moves with these three approaches to bringing technology into the car, making the solutions more familiar to a mobile generation.
GM is doing for its tiny Spark microcar what no other brand has done successfully yet — making an inexpensive navigation app from your phone work on the car’s system. The app costs $50 (one-time only) and the mapping data is downloaded from the app, so you’re not using up your data plan. The system will work only with an iPhone and the Chevrolet Spark LT that includes MyLink, which costs $14,495, but the BringGo app has many of the features you’d find in an embedded navigation system:
- Emergency information such as police, fire, and the nearest hospital
- Thousands of points of interest, such as the nearest department store, type of restaurant, repair shop, etc.
- Local Search via Google
- Where am I? locator
- Live traffic functionality provides crash reports and lane closures, and alternative routes 3-D maps
- Ability to calculate remaining miles of range
- Ability to store native maps to the customer’s smartphone, giving them access to locations and turn-by-turn directions even when phone signal quality is poor. Many GPS-enabled apps do not do this.
If you know Siri from using an Apple iPhone, you know that she will help you if she can, and if not, she’ll point you to a Google search that might do the trick. These truths have been forever etched into our culture, which is why GM has teamed up with Apple to create a voice-activated interface for its upcoming Chevrolet Spark and Sonic. The phone is connected to your car via a Bluetooth connection, and you never need look at your phone while driving — even the light won’t go on while you’re asking Siri a question with the use of a button on the steering wheel.
Here’s what Siri in your Chevy Spark or Sonic can do:
- Make voice-activated, hands-free calls to contacts on your iPhone
- Play songs in the iTunes library, and even switch music sources automatically from AM/FM/XM radio to iPod mode
- Listen to, compose, and send text messages to a phone number or anyone in saved contacts
- Access your calendar and add appointments
- Minimize distraction by keeping the screen of the iPhone from lighting up, even when Siri answers simple questions, such as game scores or the dates of national holidays
Chevrolet’s Next Generation MyLink
We won’t see this new system until the 2014 Chevrolet Impala comes out in the Spring of 2013, then later on GM trucks, SUVs, and the Corvette, but the new generation of MyLink will offer:
- Chevrolet’s first natural voice recognition for all commands — no key phrases to learn
- Four screens that change the 8-inch appearance based on your personal preference: Contemporary (clean, simple), Edge (the youth), Velocity (car guys), Main Street (average Joe/Jane).
- Ability to link up to 10 technology devices (think phones, Bluetooth, MP3 players, USB drives, etc.)
- A screen that “swipes, clicks, and drags” like an Apple product.
GM’s approach to all this new technology was to find out what people could handle first, then have designers build simple solutions that mimic the software that has already found its way into the people’s consciousness. The key was to take engineers out of the design process. The result is to mimic Apple’s simplistic icon design and interface. Not a bad strategy when you consider that Apple is the most valuable public technology company in history.
So get ready to start seeing a major advertising push featuring these technologies from Chevrolet. With the goals of both safety and connectivity in mind, it’s a pretty compelling message.