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The Next Google-Microsoft Rivalry: Electric Vehicles?

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General Motors’ (s GM) announcement this week that it plans to link up with Google (s GOOG) to provide a set of location-based services to owners of the upcoming electric vehicle the Chevy Volt comes hot on the heels of Ford (s F) laying out plans to work with Microsoft (s MSFT) to manage electric vehicle charging. Google and Microsoft have been competing on the desktop and web browser for years — is their rivalry spilling over into the new landscape of the connected and electric car?

It remains unclear how battles may unfold and alliances will take shape in the nascent market for electric vehicles, which many automakers are positioning as evidence of their capacity for innovation and technology leadership. GM’s initial move to use Google services like voice search, maps and navigation in an app designed to link the Chevy Volt with Android-based smartphones (check out our hands-on video demo here) marks only a very early step toward the kind of alliance that Ford has built with Microsoft. So don’t consider GM and Google BFFs just yet. Microsoft, on the other hand, was the developer of the Ford Sync system and the Hohm energy management tool that Ford plans to pair with upcoming electric vehicles. So these collaborations exist at very different stages of development, and we’ll have to hang on awhile to see a full-on face-off.

Here’s some key similarities and differences between the deals struck so far among the two Internet giants and two massive automakers as they join up at the intersection of vehicles, communication and the grid.

GM-Google Ford-Microsoft
  • January 2010: GM announces plans for OnStar Mobile Application providing Volt charging controls via smartphone. Demos app at CES.
  • May 2010: GM announces more extensive plans for Google voice search, navigation, etc. in version 2.0 of OnStar Mobile app for Android phones.
  • Late 2010: Volt and app launch.
  • May 2011 or earlier: Version 2.0 of the Android app launch.
  • January 2007: Ford and Microsoft detail plans at CES to launch Sync, an upgradable vehicle infotainment system.
  • 2008: Sync debuts in Ford Focus, followed by 11 other models.
  • March 2010: Ford announces at New York Auto Show it will use Microsoft Hohm to manage smart charging.
  • Late 2011: Launch of Ford Focus BEV integrated with Hohm.
Vehicles involved Chevy Volt, slated to hit production volumes of 8K-10K units in first year. OnStar has 5.5 million paying subscribers ($200/year). Hohm set to deploy in upcoming Ford electric vehicles, starting with Ford Focus. Sync installed in more than 2 million vehicles, including more than 1 million in past year alone.
What consumers will get Ability to use Google’s voice search, locate their vehicle, access to Google Maps, and send destination info from Android phone to Volt’s OnStar navigation system for turn-by-turn directions. Ability to manage battery charging based on factors including energy pricing and personal schedule, potentially lowering charging costs.
Additional partners PowerMeter utility partners include San Diego Gas & Electric, TXU Energy, JEA, Glasgow EPB, Reliance Energy, Toronto Hydro-Electric System, Yello Strom (Germany), others. Microsoft has partnered with smart meter makers Itron and Landis +Gyr. Hohm utility partners include Xcel Energy, SMUD, Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, others.
Tech partner’s larger smart charging/EV ambitions Google’s home energy management device, PowerMeter, is free to use and has “no business model.” Google has said it’s looking at ways to use energy data without smart meters, as well as working with third-party device and application makers. Energy industry and home energy management is a strategic business area for Microsoft. Hohm tool is free to consumers, but Microsoft plans to charge utilities for services eventually. EV infrastructure startup Better Place plans to use Microsoft’s Windows Embedded.
Open architecture? Android itself is an open platform. GM is reportedly in talks with multiple companies to develop a new Human Machine Interface for its vehicles that is “truly open,” and is considering opening up the OnStar API. Ford has opened up its Sync platform to let “trusted partners” hook up smartphone apps with vehicle controls. Microsoft Auto supports an API set and provides a development framework meant to be familiar to developers who aren’t necessarily familiar with automotive software.
Future plans Asked if Google had plans to connect PowerMeter with electric vehicle charging, Google’s Ed Lu has told us the company has a lot of plans in a lot of areas that he couldn’t yet talk about. GM is moving to take OnStar beyond safety and security, and integrate its vehicles more closely with smartphones. GM is also considering offering OnStar for use in other automakers’ vehicles. Potential integration of home energy use with vehicles’ on-board communication system, e.g. sending alerts to drivers on the road that electricity prices have spiked and letting them shut down large appliances until energy prices drop.

Images courtesy of General Motors and saebaryo’s photostream.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Why Microsoft’s Electric Vehicle Deal With Ford Matters

Report: IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

5 Responses to “The Next Google-Microsoft Rivalry: Electric Vehicles?”

  1. I think electric cars will be LOADED with computers. And, of course, what operating systems will these computers run if not something made by either Google or Microsoft?

    The future is green and, if you’re a giant like these two then the only way to stay on top is to monopolize anything that’s related to this future.

    The giants are sharpening their swords, all we can do now is wait for the battle to start. :)