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Friday, July 3, 2009
Detroit’s woes could pave way for tech providers of on-the-go entertainment
Microsoft eyes your dashboard



The financial turmoil in Detroit might benefit Redmond — opening the door for Microsoft Corp. to expand the footprint of its in-car information and entertainment systems.

That’s the belief of some industry analysts, particularly after Fiat’s alliance with Chrysler gave the Italian automaker a new foothold in the U.S. market. Fiat was an early adopter of Microsoft’s technology.

Increasingly, the cash-strapped auto industry could find itself without the research and development resources to keep pace with advances in consumer technology. That may lead automakers to look for outside help from technology companies, said industry analyst Phil Magney, vice president for the automotive practice at the iSuppli Corp. research firm in Minnetonka, Minn.

“What the industry is going through right now will be a catalyst to more outsourcing of telematics and infotainment,” Magney said. Overall, he said, the situation “bodes well for Microsoft.”

Microsoft already supplies the underlying technology for Ford’s Sync infotainment system. The Microsoft software doesn’t control the car but works in conjunction with mobile phones and media players to let people make hands-free phone calls, control the vehicle entertainment system with voice commands, and access real-time information.

Chrysler has an existing in-vehicle technology system called “uconnect.” Microsoft hasn’t yet had specific talks with Fiat about expanding its Microsoft-supplied “Blue & Me” technology to traditional Chrysler vehicles, said Velle Kolde, a senior product manager in the Redmond company’s automotive technology group.

However, he said, “I’m sure we’ll have those discussions.”

Ford says it has sold more than 1 million cars with the Sync technology. Marking that milestone during a May 26 event on the Microsoft campus, CEO Steve Ballmer declined to directly address the question of whether the economic problems in Detroit could improve Microsoft’s industry foothold.

“Economic downturn or not, the future is absolutely to provide more of the right services in-car, with the right level of safety, as well,” he said, citing the hands-free features. “We see a big opportunity on that. They talk about the size of the U.S. auto market — 10 million vehicles, 12, 14, 16, whatever it’s going to be, it’s a lot of cars, and then you project that out globally and we see tremendous opportunity.”

Microsoft also works with Korea’s Hyundai Kia Automotive Group. Ford’s agreement with Microsoft doesn’t preclude it from striking similar deals with other U.S. automakers, said Ford CEO Alan Mulally, during the same event in May on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne emerged as leader of the new Chrysler Group LLC as a result of a deal between the companies that brought Chrysler out of bankruptcy. The Microsoft-based Blue & Me system is available in cars including the Fiat 500, a model the carmaker plans to bring to the U.S.

Microsoft may have a tougher time getting a toehold with General Motors. The U.S. car giant is in bankruptcy, but it has long used its OnStar system for in-vehicle navigation, communication, security and diagnostics. At the same time, analyst Magney noted that the OnStar system wouldn’t necessarily preclude Microsoft from working out a deal with GM to offer an interface for portable devices or other technologies as an additional layer on top of OnStar.

LINK:
Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle): Local Business News |
 

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Fiat and Microsoft

Fiat and Microsoft are teaming up for a new feature called EcoDrive. The Italian carmaker and the software company already have an electronic communication system similar to the recently introduced Ford Sync that’s called Blue&Me.


Interesting Old News, but new to us because of Fiat:

Frankfurt 2007: Fiat/Microsoft announce Ecodrive data-logging software
 
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