GM makes big bet on smartphone integration
Most of Chevy lineup will get Android Auto, Apple CarPlay on 2016 models
DETROIT -- General Motors will offer Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay on more than a dozen Chevrolet vehicles for the 2016 model year, the industry’s biggest bet yet on dashboard displays that mimic smartphones.
Chevy will be the first automotive brand to offer both Android Auto and CarPlay and the first to roll out either across a broad range of models, GM said in a statement today. The telematics systems give drivers the ability to control maps, text messaging, music and other smartphone features and applications through a vehicle’s center-stack display.
Google and Apple generated buzz last year when each said it would offer an interface for cars, promising to satisfy demand for intuitive touch-screen systems that work like the smartphones consumers have already mastered. But these systems have arrived later than many industry watchers expected, likely slowed by thorny issues such as legal liability and regulatory compliance to avoid distracted driving.
‘Reason for purchase’
Chevy is going big by offering Android Auto and CarPlay in 14 Chevy models, including its top-selling nameplates: the Cruze and Malibu sedans, Silverado light- and heavy-duty pickups and other vehicles that account for about half of Chevy’s global sales volume. GM said the services would be available wherever those models are sold, including the U.S., China and South America.
Alicia Boler-Davis, GM’s senior vice president of global connected customer experience, said Chevy customers have made it known that they want smartphone functionality in the car.
“We believe that it is a key factor for customers and a reason for purchase,” Boler-Davis told reporters during a media briefing here on Tuesday. “It is a differentiation.”
But Chevy’s lead likely will be short-lived. Hyundai said Tuesday that it has begun offering Android Auto on the 2015 Sonata, making it the first brand to offer the service. It’s “coming soon” to more than two dozen other brands in the U.S. and overseas, including Ford, Jeep, Audi, Honda and Subaru, according to Android's website.
CarPlay today is offered only on two Ferrari models. Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are slated to integrate it into their systems eventually, Apple has said. Others are likely to follow.
Can’t read texts
On the Chevy models, a driver can use Android Auto or CarPlay by plugging the phone into one of the vehicle’s USB ports. Chevy’s proprietary MyLink infotainment interface in the vehicle’s center stack will temporarily give way to a version of the Android or iPhone screen that users are accustomed to, with familiar icons for phone, maps, music and other features and apps.
The interfaces will include only functions that GM and the tech companies have deemed safe for use in the car. Most are controlled through voice commands, while some can be accessed by using the touch screen.
In CarPlay, for example, the Siri voice-recognition system will play incoming text messages aloud but won’t display them on the screen so drivers can keep their eyes on the road.
GM CEO Mary Barra was scheduled to announce the deployment today during an appearance at a digital technology conference near Los Angeles.
“For most of us, our smartphones are essential,” Barra said in a statement prepared in advance of the announcement. “Partnering with Apple and Google to offer CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility across the widest range of models in the industry is a great example of how Chevrolet continues to democratize technology that’s important to our customers.”
Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive, believes Chevy can use the Google and Apple interfaces to attract some non-GM buyers who want a smartphone-like interface.
“There is probably a certain percentage of buyers in the market who know about this and might be waiting around for it, so Chevy being first might be a factor that pushes them over the edge,” he says. “But I think it will be a short-term benefit” that will fade once other automakers deploy the systems across their lineups.
Android Auto and CarPlay will be available only on models with MyLink touch screens, which include mid- and upper-level trims. Both will be offered on 7-inch screens. At launch, only CarPlay will be available on models with 8-inch screens, though Android Auto could be added to those vehicles later in the 2016 model year, GM said.
The systems can run either via the smartphones’ cellular connections or through the 4G wireless service rolling out in many GM vehicles. Android Auto requires a phone running the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system or newer versions. CarPlay requires an iPhone 5 or newer.
The other 2016 models Chevy will offer the systems on include the Spark, Camaro and Corvette (including convertibles), Volt, Impala, Colorado, Tahoe and Suburban.
GM officials hinted that the systems would be added to other brands but declined to discuss a timeline.