Audi’s launch at the 2014 International CES of a 10 inch Android tablet, through its newly-announced partnership with Google, underlined the increasing convergence of consumer electronics (CE) and the automotive industry. The Audi-Google partnership is part of the wider Open Automotive Alliance, a Google-led collaboration involving four OEMs and a chip supplier.
‘Alliance’ and ‘collaboration’ are becoming everyday concepts in the automotive industry, and they formed the basis of the first GENIVI Alliance-hosted panel debate at CES, featuring speakers from Intel, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Ford and Honda.
Joel Hoffmann is the GENIVI Alliance’s Treasurer, and Automotive Strategist at Intel; to his side sat GENIVI’s President, Philippe Gicquel, who is also General Manager for Cockpit, Safety, Infotainment EE Modules at PSA Peugeot Citroën. Honda was represented by Charles Koch, Manager, New Business Development, and John Ellis, Global Technologist and Head of the Ford Developer Program, spoke for the Ford Motor Company.
The GENIVI Alliance was officially established in 2009 and now numbers over 180 members including 13 OEMs, 23 Tier 1s and a broad range of suppliers and service providers. The Alliance’s goals are simple: it promotes collaboration on non-competitive software and middleware in order to focus resources on developing those aspects where value can be added.
The automotive industry opens up to collaboration
Ever since there has been an automotive industry, it has been closed and fiercely non-collaborative. However, as the possibilities in infotainment become clear, as the influence of CE deepens, and as science fiction becomes reality, to paraphrase Audi Chairman, Rupert Stadler, so the need to develop automotive-grade software becomes ever more crucial.
In other sectors, collaboration is the norm. The automotive industry is already learning about this from the CE industry, agreed the panel. But Hoffmann believes that even more collaboration is required, and wants to see GENIVI Alliance members work openly not only with other GENIVI members, but with companies outside the GENIVI Alliance. “The GENIVI Alliance is not enough to open up software development.”
Furthermore, Hoffmann said he would like to see additional CE influence in GENIVI. “If I were to ask for one thing to be added to GENIVI, it is for more consumer electronics companies to join the Alliance.”
Responding to a question about what GENIVI has achieved to date, Hoffmann and Gicquel emphasised that it’s difficult to point to a particular product in the market “containing GENIVI”. According to Hoffmann, “If somebody asks, ‘Do you have GENIVI in that car?’, then probably not. GENIVI is not an operating system. One of the things that GENIVI has accomplished is to introduce Linux into the car. Linux is now considered an important part of the automotive industry.”
There has been one publicly-announced product launch using GENIVI: in 2013, BMW was the first OEM to launch a complete GENIVI-compliant infotainment platform in a car head-unit. Two other projects are understood to be close to market-readiness, including one by Jaguar Land Rover.
Car companies, software companies
Ford is not a member of the GENIVI Alliance, but it does work closely with GENIVI, and enjoys access to the Alliance through its ownership of Livio, acquired in 2013. Indeed, Ford’s John Ellis, who introduces himself as “a software guy, not a car guy”, is a keen proponent of collaboration and open source development. “We’re all software companies,” he said, referring to his OEM panel colleagues, “and we put our software in very sexy products called cars.”
Where once, ‘collaboration’ meant that suppliers did what the OEMs asked, industry thinking is evolving. PSA’s Philippe Gicquel sees his company’s role within GENIVI as an extension of its corporate culture of collaboration – the OEM has a host of partnerships with engine suppliers and other OEMs. “PSA has a long history of collaboration,” he said. “The automotive industry is a hugely competitive industry, but it is also a high capital industry where we need to share development.”
Now, said Gicquel, OEMs are under threat from competition coming not only from within the industry, but also from outside the industry. The only way to defend itself, agreed Ford’s Ellis, is for OEMs to “start behaving like software companies”.
Discussion about consumers’ wishes to use particular devices in their cars led to the panel agreeing that despite the best efforts of OEM and supplier development teams, car companies need to stay connected to their customers. “If they want something in the car, we have to facilitate that,” said Honda’s Koch. “Customers are getting increasingly sophisticated about infotainment. Honda’s a lot of things, but we’re not an infotainment company.” Koch acknowledged that OEMs must keep sight of what the user wants. “We need to ensure we make the HMI fun, interesting and simple to use.”
Interestingly, Koch noted that monetising infotainment is not one of Honda’s targets: “We’re not interested in making money from infotainment.” Honda’s aim, he said, is to sell cars, not infotainment.
Open Automotive Alliance
The session, provocatively titled ‘Collaborate or Die’, was designed to address the benefits of collaboration, and fell in the same week as the announcement of the Android-based Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), with Google, Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia and NVIDIA as its founding members.
Honda is a member of GENIVI; it’s also in the OAA, and works with Apple to run iOs in the Car in its HondaLink system. Koch explained Honda’s decision to join several alliances: “Rather than trying to invent things, let’s just tap into this incredible resource that’s out there.” The OEM sees collaboration as essential to ensuring that it is part of the development of such platforms. As Koch pointed out, there are five or six platforms that Honda needs to incorporate into its product offerings in the next two to three years.
While those in favour of collaboration and open source see the value in sharing in order to get more quickly to the point where they can start making money, others may question why any company would want to share.
Ford’s Ellis raised the question of brand value: “I welcome open source, but I fear the loss of the brand.” However, get it right, said Ellis, and open source can be used successfully. He cited Apple’s products as an example. “Apple is a multi-billion dollar company that uses open source software to create highly profitable products that are closed.”
OEMs may be concerned about the potential impact on brand value, but with Google now fully signed up to a race that already includes the GENIVI Alliance, Apple, Microsoft, QNX and others, any risk to a brand is more likely to come from not taking part.
“We will not survive if we don’t collaborate,” said Ellis. Collaborate or die indeed.
About the author: Martin Kahl is the Editor of Automotive World