In September 2019. General Motors (GM) announced that, starting in 2021, the automaker would begin equipping its vehicles shipping outside of China with infotainment systems powered by Android Automotive Operating Software (OS). Future vehicles featuring these Android OS-based infotainment systems will give consumers embedded access to the Google Maps navigation application and Google Assistant. In addition, a host of automotive-grade applications will be made available to GM’s customers via the Google Play Store, an application framework supported by a far greater range of developers than any auto-originated equivalent.
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GM Selects Android Automotive for Connected Infotainment
In September 2019, General Motors (GM) announced that, starting in 2021, the automaker would begin equipping its vehicles shipping outside of China with infotainment systems powered by Android Automotive Operating Software (OS). Future vehicles featuring these Android OS-based infotainment systems will give consumers embedded access to the Google Maps navigation application and Google Assistant. In addition, a host of automotive-grade applications will be made available to GM’s customers via the Google Play Store, an application framework supported by a far greater range of developers than any auto-originated equivalent.
GM has therefore become the second mass-market Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) after Renault-Nissan to opt for the Android Automotive OS, opting to leverage Google’s services over their own in-house development. The two OEMs shipped a combined total of 12.2 million vehicles outside of China in 2017, representing considerable market potential for Google as Android Automotive is made available on more models over the next two to five years. With Google’s automotive momentum ramping up, both in the infotainment and automation domains, OEMs must question how they can offer an infotainment experience that rivals that of Google, particularly when such systems become available on inexpensive models from mass-market brands.
What about OnStar?
It has taken Google some time to gain traction in automotive, with most automakers at first reluctant to cede control of the digital experience, which is considered by many OEMs to be a key differentiator. Compounded by fears over data ownership and a potential consumer backlash over privacy, automakers resolved to keep Google at arm’s length, limiting its presence to superficial smartphone mirroring alongside the OEMs own embedded offering. In practice, however, many consumers began to use the head unit purely to control their smartphone via these safe, distraction-mitigating integration protocols. It seems that concerns over commoditization and data ownership are being overwhelmed by sheer consumer demand for a digital experience that is consistent with expectations dictated by smartphones and other consumer electronics.
Renault-Nissan’s announcement as the first major OEM to go all in with Google was not too surprising; the OEM had never impressed consumers with its infotainment offering, and so had very little to lose in outsourcing to Google. Indeed, this offered Renault-Nissan the opportunity to gain a significantly superior digital experience in comparison with their direct competitors, and even relative to luxury brands. In GM’s case however, there is a considerable legacy in the form of OnStar, whose services will now share the infotainment experience with competing applications from the Google Play Store, with Google Assistant providing an interface comparable to an OnStar operator.
GM’s response has been to pivot OnStar, focusing on tasks that require a high degree of manual interaction from trained operators, in particular safety and security services, as well as insurance—an area with little crossover with the Google Play Store or with Google’s own services. OnStar is rare among OEM-owned telematics offerings in that it actually turns a profit, albeit a small one. The fact that GM was willing to overhaul and ultimately endanger its uniquely profitable OnStar legacy signals the strength of the Android Automotive OS product and its related services and application framework, as well as the growing irrelevance of telematics services beyond the legacy safety and security use case.
What about Consumer Data?
GM, like Renault-Nissan, has therefore conceded that it could not compete with Google’s vertical integration, short design cycles, regular update cadences, and refined services informed by its large user base. However, as mentioned, Google has not only been battling OEMs' reluctance to outsource the digital experience, but also their reluctance to share data. Today’s connected vehicles generate significant data sets, as messages are sent between Electronic Control Units (ECUs) on the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus, with the volume and semantic-richness of these data sets expected to grow with the proliferation of Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS).
With the connected car set to become a unique agent, capable of capturing, processing and sharing data covering a wide geographic environment, OEMs are keen to monetize these data, either by direct selling or by partnering with platforms that can support them in leveraging the data to create new monetizable services. For all that OEMs’ attitudes toward data have become less cautious, as ABI Research’s Transformative Connected Car Services Built on Data Crowdsourcing (AN-2605) Technology Analysis Report observed, OEMs are highly protective of maintenance data. This attitude seems to be persisting, with GM refusing to share maintenance data and/or data relating to driver behavior with Google. This strategy enables OEMs to offer a Google-powered digital experience (helping to increase take rates of connected car packages), while leaving the data monetization strategy available to the OEM instead of simply signing away this potential revenue to Google. In this respect GM’s arrangement is similar to Renault-Nissan’s, which has opted to develop a cloud platform geared toward data ingestion to enable prognostic and maintenance-related services.
Google’s apparent flexibility in its data access is certainly a factor helping to drive its adoption by OEMs. Consumer-grade companies hoping to partner with OEMs must be willing to accommodate partial access to data, allowing OEM control over maintenance-related data. Similarly, if an OEM is to hand over control of its digital experience to a third party, it must select a third party that is likely to advance deployment of connected cars, with a strategy to monetize the data sets coming from these growing numbers of connected cars.