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Here's why new car tech is four years out of date

Lucas Mearian | May 7, 2013
Think you can upgrade your cars hardware? Not anytime soon

"It does wind up costing us more to meet those specs, too," Buczkowski added.

For example, electronic circuitry in automobiles receive a special conformal coating material to protect it from moisture, dust, chemicals and temperature extremes.

Why can't we upgrade our cars?

But shouldn't consumers be allowed to upgrade their infotainment systems -- perhaps change out motherboards, hard drives or even wirelessly upgrade the software in them?

Kathy McMahon, lead engineer for radio systems on Chevrolet and Buick, said while its possible to enable modular infotainment systems, creating a standard for upgrading tech across so many models makes it difficult to execute.

For example, high-end cars tend to segregate pieces of an electronic communications system, such as rear camera views, stereo systems, clocks, pop-up vehicle warnings and in-car mobile phone services, while lower-end cars aggregate those amenities on one unit.

"When you buy a consumer electronic device, you know it will be expendable. It's going to be replaced in a timely manner. The reason you can't just upgrade like that in a car is that it's hooked to a $30,000 transportation device," McMahon said.

Over the next several years, however, manufacturers will begin allowing navigation systems and their map information to be upgraded via wireless connectivity, said Koslowski. Those upgrades may also extend to other features down the road.

For example, Chevy has announced that it will begin offering 4G LTE connectivity in its 2015 models, which go on sale in next year. That, said Fosgard, will be a watershed moment in the industry.

GM also announced at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show its Flexible App Framework. When rolled out later this year, it will allow software developers to access the company's APIs and create new functionality for the infotainment systems in GM vehicles.

"What I love about that is my car has the potential to be my [web] portal," Fosgard said. "We're starting to redefine what a car is. It's coming fast."

Mobile device add-ons

The other trend is toward allowing a driver to connect smartphones or tables to an infotainment system and allow it to feed the data in.

The cloud is also becoming more important in vehicle data access, either by leveraging your smart phone or using 3G wireless through an embedded antenna. For example, all vehicles that allow cellular connectivity can connect to Pandora streaming music service.

"That's going to really drive further trends in the auto industry where you'll probably see less and less hardware in the car, at least from a data storage perspective," Koslowski said. "Ford SYNC ... gives you access to the Amazon cloud to download your digital content directly to your car over your stereo."


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