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Smart cars are getting smarter, but the ride isn't perfect

J.D. Sartain | Feb. 12, 2014
The cars of tomorrow will listen, talk, entertain, protect, get energy from the sun and even drive themselves. Not all carmakers plan to take the same road, though, and some face more potholes than other.

Audi Corporate Communications Manager Bradley Stertz says participating in OAA is a "natural fit" in line with the vision of connecting cars to the surrounding environment. Audi has a "longstanding and valued working relationship with Google," he says, noting that Audi connect embedded Wi-Fi connectivity is the first in-car system in the world to use features such as Google Earth, Google Local Voice Search and Google Street View.

Technical Blunders, Costs, Complexities Could Stall Smart Car Sales
Not all smart cars are created equal. MyFord Touch, also known as MyLincoln Touch — the onboard communications and entertainment system developed by Microsoft and Ford — has received failing reliability ratings.

Meanwhile, Renault blames bugs in its R-Link touchscreen entertainment and navigation panel for dwindling interest in its Zoe electric car. (Although Renault's decision to charge Zoe owners monthly fees to rent the battery that runs the car, along with Renault's ability to log all vehicle activity and send a shutdown signal to the car, might also have something to do with Zoe's diminished reputation.)

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota and others are developing smart cars - but not everyone is on board. In fact, many CES guests and participants expressed concerns about higher sticker prices, as well as maintenance and repair costs. As one example, GM and Chevrolet smart car ignition keys cost $350. (We've come a long way from $2 hardware store key copies.)

Meanwhile, your local, independent mechanic can no longer work on your custom, proprietary, smart vehicle, as each system is unique and tied directly to the manufacturer. No more $50 oil changes or $100 windshields. Soon you'll pay whatever the manufacturer demands — for parts and service — because no one else will be able to repair your car.

Brown, though, isn't worried. As was the case with the computers and smartphones, purchase prices for smart cars will drop as adoption increase. Those $350 keys will become obsolete, too, he says, to be replaced by either sensors linked to mobile phone or fingerprint recognition systems.

Independent mechanics aren't doomed, either. Most will adapt, Brown says, with previously independents mechanics affiliating with a manufacturer network to gain access to technology.

"A lot of what's going on is related to software. Unlocking performance can be a simple case of an engine remap, using nothing more than a software update administered by plugging in a laptop," he says. "Modern cars are more like rolling computers than mechanical objects, so more repairs [will] amount to little more than updating the software."

Audi's Stertz says enhancing the "smooth exchange of data and functionality between cars and Android devices" is the first step, as it will let Android app developers add car modes to safely present information to drivers.


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