L.A. Auto Show: Automakers resist a common standard for in-dash tech

Today's car owners complain about few things more than the technology in their dashboards, which often doesn't work well with their tablets or phones.

But automakers are resisting suggestions that a common standard for software or operating systems would  solve the myriad issues drivers face.

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These days, consumers want every car model to be able to connect with every type of smartphone. Industry leaders say the way to accomplish that goal is by making their car’s infotainment systems -- dashboard screens for navigation, entertainment and various controls -- embrace all smartphone platforms.

But creating one standard system won't work for several reasons, industry leaders said at the Connected Car Expo at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Tuesday.

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For starters, there isn’t one standard among smartphones. There’s Apple, Android and other types of smartphones. And even among Android phones, there are many different versions that car companies need to support, said Phil Abram, General Motors chief infotainment officer.

“The notion that there’s a single standard that will make everything go away is not reality. It’s a more complicated problem,” Abram said. “What’s the one standard smartphone we should interface with?”

Companies need to also make systems capable of providing information to their drivers even when their smartphones aren’t around. That means they have to make hybrid systems that can function on their own as well as connect to users’ smartphones.

Additionally, automakers can’t embrace a single standard because consumers are buying new smartphones at a much faster pace than they’re getting new cars. The life cycles of cars and phones are a huge mismatch, said Derek Kuhn, vice president of sales and marketing at QNX Software Systems.

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“We get rid of smartphones every 18 months,” Kuhn said. “Whereas, I don’t know about you guys, but I  can’t afford to do that with cars.”

And of course, automakers also want to make sure that their cars’ infotainment systems stick to the core of their brand.

But Charles Koch, manager of new business development at American Honda, said he expects infotainment systems to improve because automakers are trying to keep pace with technology companies. And they are becoming more receptive to working with the tech industry.

“I think there was a time when we were a little more egocentric and trying to do this ourselves,” Koch said. “Now, we’ve gotten smarter, we’re partnering better and we’re understanding how to move with the cycles of technology. And that’s helping.”


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