The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 5, 2013

Three different paths to infotainment taken by Detroit Three


General Motors is the pioneer, Ford the innovator and Chrysler the sleeper dark horse in the battle for the best infotainment system among domestic automakers.

Detroit’s automakers have followed three distinct paths to allow drivers to play their music, get directions, make calls and stay constantly connected while behind the wheel. All have bugs. All have advantages and disadvantages. Each car maker is determined to provide the best system to differentiate themselves and sell more vehicles.

“If you ignore connectivity, you’ll go out of business,” said Mike Hichme, GM senior manager for advanced infotainment and design. A large screen and Bluetooth are essentials. “(About) 70 percent of customers want a form of connectivity. No one can afford to take a pass.”

Less than 10 percent of vehicles globally have GPS chips and cellular technology embedded right into their cars to transform them into a phone on wheels. But that penetration should double by 2015 and continue to grow to 50 percent, said Francesca Forestieri, a connected vehicle expert with the GSM Association, an international trade organization of mobile operators.

“By 2025 it’s clear all cars will be connected in multiple manners,” she said. The trend now is to offer different options, she said, from embedded computer chips to the ability to tap into smartphones seamlessly.

Detroit’s automakers have tackled the problem from different angles, resulting in unique solutions.

GM’s OnStar, developed in 1996, is the granddaddy of the field, known as telematics. But Ford’s original Sync system was deemed so revolutionary that in 2007 it eclipsed GM as the technology leader, causing great angst in the OnStar offices.

But Ford, buoyed by Sync’s success, pushed too far too fast in designing its successor, MyFord Touch, which replaced buttons and knobs with a touch screen and multiple menus for simple functions. The combination of bugs with the system and consumer complaints about its complexity put a black mark on Ford’s overall quality record. Ford has addressed many of the bugs and continues to update the software to make the system easier to use.

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