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Interview: Phil Eyler, Executive Vice President and President, Infotainment, Harman

Phil Eyler provides an update on Harman's Connected Car activities and the forces shaping its strategy. By Megan Lampinen

Can you tell me about your role in the company?

Phil Eyler, Harman
Phil Eyler

I have been with Harman for 18 years in a variety of positions spanning from infotainment to audio. Today, I lead Harman’s Connected Car division and am responsible for driving our multi-billion dollar business with 8,000 employees throughout the world. Since stepping into this role in July, I have been focussed on expanding upon our four core areas of growth: embedded infotainment, telematics, connected safety and cyber security. With this focus we have secured several recent significant customer wins, including new contract awards with BMW, Daimler, and Subaru.

How has Harman’s business focus evolved over the years, from straightforward audio to connectivity and autonomous driving? How abrupt or seamless was the evolution?

Harman has been a trusted brand for more than 60 years and began investing into the connected car space in 1995 when it acquired Becker. Today it supplies infotainment systems to OEMs worldwide, with an 80% market share in the infotainment industry. Nine out of the top 20 OEMs are Harman customers. There are more than 25 million automobiles on the road with our connected solutions.
We continue to evolve our business through investments in R&D and through acquisitions. This year, Harman expanded its expertise in connectivity technologies with the acquisition of Redbend, a leading provider in software management technology for connected devices and over-the-air software and firmware upgrading services.

When it comes to connected car developments, what’s the biggest driver?

There isn’t just one driver for this segment. The infotainment system is the brain of a vehicle in which safety, security and connectivity play equal importance.

How do you see over-the-air (OTA) software updates shaping the area of automotive recalls?

Harman Rinspeed Budii CockpitOTA capabilities greatly change the automotive industry – for OEMs and drivers alike. They provide a gateway for automakers to deliver system updates quickly and seamlessly without relying on drivers to bring in their vehicles to be serviced. We can see OTA capabilities being helpful throughout the vehicle maintenance ecosystem – from remote diagnostics to rapid response to new issues as they occur in a fleet. Of course, Harman has also expanded its managed services capabilities to provide automotive OEMs with a complete end-to-end solution for managing software updates to the car.

The industry has seen a rise in partnerships between telematics companies and other suppliers as well as OEMs. Can you provide an update on your own acquisitions of Redbend Software and Symphony Teleca? What sort of partnership strategy does Harman pursue?

The integration is going well. With the addition of Redbend, we added a critical component to our automotive systems and services portfolio that allows us to essentially future-proof software in cars, ultimately making them safer, smarter and more efficient. The Symphony Teleca acquisition provides a critical foundation and deep bench strength for a comprehensive systems and services portfolio. These additions further our ability to deliver seamless, connected car and connected lifestyle consumer experiences.

How do you foresee the general relationship between telematics companies and OEMs evolving in the coming years? Are we likely to see a telematics company acquire an OEM?

Gartner predicts that by 2020, there will be 250 million connected vehicles on the road, so I think we can expect a significant upshot in the number of partnerships between telematics companies and OEMs as connected vehicles become more sophisticated and increasingly mainstream.

Clearly, the connected car is not and will not be an island – it will require a highly advanced infrastructure supporting it. We’ve learned that no one supplier or automaker can provide the singular solution, so industry cooperation among suppliers and OEMS, as well as standards bodies and private-public partnership organisations, will be critical to fulfilling the dream of connected cars and ultimately, autonomous driving.

Harman Rinspeed Budii Cockpit

Are these tech and OEM collaborations likely to encourage the evolution of mobility into a service, moving away from traditional vehicle ownership?

Drivers have reached a point where they expect some form of infotainment system in their vehicle, and it’s now a matter of choosing how advanced they want their infotainment features to be. In the next five years, we anticipate automakers and technology suppliers to close the gap between how mobile devices and cars are managed. Harman is diligently working on providing solutions to keep up with this demand. Our incremental OTA update capabilities in infotainment solutions enables us to keep up with this demand, and we’re now able to service OEMs with faster and more intelligent, safe and secure solutions to meet consumer demands for a connected lifestyle.

What sort of role will government need to play in the rise of connected vehicle technology?

Today’s vehicles are becoming the ultimate mobile device, driven by consumers’ expectations to have a connected and personalised experience in their vehicles. An innovation gap continues to exist between the mobile technology and automotive industries, which has resulted in examples of unsafe, unsecure and untested connected experiences in the car for consumers. Vehicles are not like mobile phones and other mobile devices – vehicles must be regulated for consumer safety in much more complex ways. Connected car legislation will be most effective if it’s created with the public sector, automakers and technology developers seated at the same table working together to develop safety and security standards that also support innovation.

What is the biggest uncertainty in today’s landscape for Harman and companies like it?

The biggest uncertainty for Harman is also our greatest source of excitement. The future of driving is undefined and we have the industry’s leading team of engineers, designers and developers creating solutions that help our customers seize new opportunities to excite drivers. Our heritage equipping more than 25 million automobiles on the road with Harman connected solutions makes us a trusted advisor, while our innovation and foresight delivering industry-first solutions ensures our customers navigate new technology trends, consumer demands and industry regulations.

This article appeared in the Q4 2015 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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