FRANKFURT -- Faced with increasing competition from Tesla Motors and IT giants Apple and Google, Germany's premium automakers aim to show that they still have a leading edge in autonomous driving and car connectivity technology.
BMW, Audi and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz will vie to outdo each other with their displays at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche will deliver the keynote address at the event in Las Vegas, which runs from Jan. 6-9.
Mercedes will unveil a research car showing the brand's latest autonomous driving technology at the show, while Audi will display the complete interior of the new Q7 SUV including a detachable tablet that passengers could use to command the vehicle secondary functions. BMW will highlight a feature that will park a car without the driver in multi-level parking garages.
Now that design, performance and build quality are no longer the exclusive domain premium brands, Mercedes, BMW and Audi must be the first to market with technological advances to maintain their price premium over mass market cars.
Infotainment, autonomous driving and consumer-based IT applications not only can give them a competitive edge over rivals in today’s digital world, they also open up new business opportunities such as car sharing.
In the future, connectivity and data management also hold the key for increased infrastructure efficiency as traffic patterns are analyzed, bottlenecks avoided and dangers identified.
"With most innovations in automotive engineering relying on electronics, it becomes evident why it is just as important for us to be at electronics shows as it is to be at auto shows," Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said in January during his keynote speech at the last CES.
Greater emotional tie
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn believes connectivity is even changing how people interact with their cars, transforming the relationship from a subservient one in which man operates a machine to a kind of partnership that binds customers closer to the brand.
"This will foster an even greater emotional tie with the car," Ghosn told a conference earlier this month on connected cars organized by ACEA, the European auto industry lobby group, in Brussels.
In the background, Apple and Google are looking to increase their automotive business by monetizing the terrabytes of data collected and exchanged between vehicles and cyberspace.
Google has further extended its reach into the industry via the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA). This would allow the tech giant, which is developing its own self-driving vehicles, to integrate its Android operating sytems into cars manufactured by OAA members including Volkswagen, General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, Renault-Nissan, Hyundai-Kia and Honda.
New competitors such as Silicon Valley-based Tesla are stealing some of the luster from the established German brands and threatening to win market share. Tesla already offers convenient over-the-air (OTA) software updates, a feature that could have prevented Audi this October from its embarrassing request for 850,000 customers to have their mechanics fix a glitch in the airbag programming of the A4s.
"Tesla is showing the way there, and is the only OEM to have leveraged today OTAs beyond infotainment, and in many ways have enabled them to actually avoid a costly recall,” said Franck Leveque, Frost & Sullivan’s Vice President for Automotive & Transportation speaking at the ACEA conference.
Zetsche's keynote speech at the CES will focus on the latest advances in autonomous vehicle technology and its impact on society, mobility and the environment. Zetsche wants Daimler to be an innovation leader in the area of advanced urban mobility concepts.
"Autonomous driving for us is clearly part of a strategy to realize our vision of accident free driving,” Daimler development chief Thomas Weber told reporters in November. “Most accidents happen because there is a situation that the driver can no longer can control.”
The Mercedes research vehicle unveiled at the CES will show how vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication can assist a car that accelerates, steers and brakes entirely on its own.
Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg will showcase the latest trends and products in the areas of Audi connect, piloted driving, user controls and displays as well as infotainment and lighting technology.
BMW will show a research version of its i3 electric car that can park itself in multi-level parking garages. The Remote Valet Parking Assistant marks a benchmark toward using perfectly controlled technology in all driving situations, BMW says.