Giant screens, voice assistants…, manufacturers have embarked on a race for infotainment and on-board technologies. But aren’t they overdoing it?
The days when only the radio provided entertainment in the car are long gone. Today, vehicles are equipped with giant screens, voice assistants, and many other infotainment-related features. You only have to see the new Mercedes E-Class (to name just one) to realize this, with its two large screens, allowing you to watch films, go to TikTok or even play Angry Birds.
In China, which is the largest market for German car manufacturers, a study carried out by the firm Oliver Wyman last year revealed that 90% of Chinese drivers would be willing to change brands to benefit from more connectivity. This contrasts sharply with less than half of European consumers. Connectivity has become a determining factor for manufacturers in the Chinese market.
Walter Mertel, the financial director of BMW, emphasizes: “If you don’t have this offer in China, no customer will consider you. » German brands are therefore looking for solutions to remain masters of their own software architecture and maintain control over data, rather than being entirely dependent on technology giants like Google.
Mercedes, for example, presented its latest generation of MBUX infotainment system, developed internally, without resorting to suppliers. For their part, Chinese brands such as BYD, the leading manufacturer on the Chinese market, and Leapmotor, are also developing their own digital platforms, while integrating elements such as the Android system and the Google map to conquer the European market.
Manufacturers are increasing their partnerships with music, navigation and video applications to integrate them into their platforms. BYD even goes so far as to develop a karaoke application, very popular in China, for European audiences.
At Leapmotor, a virtual assistant called Xiao Ling can identify up to eight people using the car using a facial recognition system, a trend increasingly adopted by manufacturers. It memorizes users’ preferences by adjusting the seat position, interior lighting and automatically proposing their home address. Although he currently only speaks Chinese, a French version is planned. Mercedes also plans to offer a similar experience, even including massages on board.
With the prospect of autonomous driving taking the driver’s attention away from the road, screens now occupy a prominent place in vehicles. Some are integrated into the dashboard, while others take the form of tablets, or even original round screens, like that of the latest electric Mini Cooper.
Most of these screens also offer the ability to play video games, a growing market. According to expert Andreas Nienhaus from Oliver Wyman, augmented reality could in the future enable interaction between the game and what happens on the road.
Some Chinese brands, such as Hiphi, go even further. Their virtual assistant is able to move using an articulated arm to adapt to the person speaking to him. Additionally, the car can project films against a wall or symbols on the roadway using its headlights. Emoticons are even displayed on a screen located under the headlights to warn pedestrians.
One thing is certain, the days of needle counters and small dials to find the frequency of your radio station seem far away, and we are right to wonder, faced with so much complexity, how will these cars “age”. Tesla and Volvo provide some answers by “rethinking” the notion of restyling, that is to say by extending the lifespan of cars while offering regular software updates.
Still, it’s a bit difficult to predict how these cars will age. Will they still work in 30, 40 or 50 years? Will it be possible to restart a EQS “barn exit” for example? No doubt, but it will be a little more complicated than today.
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