General Motors moved this week to link its upcoming Chevrolet Volt and in-vehicle communications system, OnStar, with Google navigation tools and smartphones based on the search giant’s Android platform. This marks a key intersection in the trajectories of automakers and Internet giants: It’s the first publicly announced deal of its kind between Google and one of Detroit’s Big Three, and at launch, it will become one of the earliest automotive applications for Android. The move also comes as an important step for GM to expand its OnStar services beyond safety and security and adapt it to the specific needs of electric vehicle drivers.
The next generation of electric cars will fuel up from a smart power grid, have one of several operating systems, will connect to broadband networks provided by wireless carriers and have a charge that’s controlled by software at a utility data center. These increasingly “connected” cars will ultimately offer a new platform for entrepreneurs and car makers to develop auto-focused applications. Automakers looking to expand in-vehicle connectivity (partly to provide remote controls, diagnostics, energy management, efficiency tools, entertainment and other services) will have to weigh a set of factors for various platforms, including:
- Capacity and flexibility for upgrading throughout the life of a vehicle as the technology improves
- Time to market and costs in a time when car companies face tight budgets and intense pressure to launch innovative products.
- The difficulty of bringing a platform up to automotive grade (higher costs, warranty and safety issues require more stringent standards for cars than phones or personal computers)
A long road lies ahead before car-tech alliances like GM and Google — or other partners — achieve the full potential of integrating location-based services, web connectivity, cloud computing apps and mobile devices into the world of electric mobility. GM testing the Android waters with the Volt – a halo car meant to showcase advanced, cutting edge technology — could pave the way to much more comprehensive partnerships across previously disconnected industries and systems.