Auto Infotainment Hits the Supply Chain

More automakers are offering high-end information systems in their cars, spiking demand for infotainment modules in the electronics supply chain.

High-end applications, such as running smartphone applications on a dashboard console or dictating emails with voice commands, were previously limited to BMW, Mercedes, and other luxury brand cars. Now more advanced offerings have begun to trickle down into the mainstream car segment. Demand is ramping up from the likes of General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Chrysler in the United States and PSA Peugeot-Citroen, Renault, and Volkswagen in Europe.

On average, when offering components to big-volume producers, electronic suppliers are also able to maintain margins similar to what they commanded for high-end cars, according to the European Association of Automotive Suppliers.

The margins are largely maintained by achieving supply chain operational efficiencies, often on a worldwide scale. System integrators must also often adapt their production capabilities, for example, so that they can produce and supply many components for information-related applications locally on a just-in-time basis whether in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers says.

The focal point of in-car infotainment in the United States remains the smartphone and the in-car console on which smartphone apps run in the United States. US carmakers increasingly seek consoles that can run and display smartphone apps, often with voice-activated commands.

Electronic systems integrators such as Bosch, Continental, and Delphi supply the consoles with the components that they procure from component makers, in much the same way that PC makers do.

According to a Frost & Sullivan report (registration required), 25 percent of the cars sold in North America in 2011 ran smartphone apps on a car console. That percentage should more than double within five years.

Ford was the first mainstream automaker to roll out high-end systems that run smartphone apps in cars with its Sync system. Two years ago, it began to offer consoles that ran smartphone apps with voice-activated commands, such as email dictation, after luxury carmakers such as BMW and Mercedes began offering similar applications.

Following Ford's lead in the United States, other mainstream US carmakers have developed or are developing car systems that run smartphone navigation, communications, and a range of other apps. These systems include GM's MyLink, Chrysler's UConnect, and Toyota's Entune.

Rolling phablets
Europe's mainstream carmakers are taking a less smartphone-centric approach. For example, Renault is rolling out its R-Link system in its high-volume selling Clio, Captur, and other models. Car owners download apps directly to a tablet-style computer screen embedded in the console. In addition to the standard navigation and music apps, R-Link allows drivers and passengers to send and receive emails and tweets.

PSA/Peugeot-Citroen offers its Connect Apps in its Peugeot 208, 2008, and other models. The user plugs a connection key into a USB port to access content such as weather reports, traffic conditions, prices at nearby filling stations, parking lot locations, restaurant and hotel information, and even a Michelin guide.

Volkswagen, Europe's largest carmaker, offers a touchscreen system that features a WiFi hotspot that permits in-car Internet access for smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

For the European market, Bosch, Continental, Delphi, and Omega are the leading electronics system integrators.

The fact that drivers in the United States will increasingly be able to access and interact with information and applications raises obvious safety concerns. However, distracted driving is a subject of another discussion. Those involved in the automotive supply chain can expect significant demand for components that go into car entertainment systems in the near and middle term.

14 comments on “Auto Infotainment Hits the Supply Chain

  1. Lavender
    June 4, 2013

    The development of auto infotainment has taken into account of driving distraction. For vehicle buyers, safety is the most important factor, and the voice command is a requirement of safety. 


  2. Bruce Gain
    June 4, 2013


  3. Tom Murphy
    June 4, 2013

    Safety always has to be Job 1 in auto manufacturing. Nobody wants to drive a family car that is more dangerous than another, unless they're nuts.   Fortunately, hands-free phone systems are making it safer to drive while talking but the distraction factor remains high.   Navigation systems that remain mute force the driver to look away from the road to see a map.  And email is only practical if the system takes dictation (accurately!) and reads responses.

    Collision avoidance systems and similar safety systems are great, but don't offset some of the new safety concerns above.  Personally, this is why I don't have most of those features in my car, but please don't call me a luddite.

  4. _hm
    June 4, 2013

    We already have too many hours of internet and emails at office and at home. Why not enjoy lovely nature when you drive? It is wonderful blue sky, green earth and forest on both sides. Look at kids playing and dog walking. I love to deeply watch nature while driving and give rest to my mind.

    Infotainment is good to have but not many people use it and not many people should use it.


  5. William K.
    June 5, 2013

    No, Lilly, I don't think that very much consideration has been given to safety in the design of all of those entertainment toys that are put into cars. The number one goal is maximum profit, which does require some effort to reduce liability. So some effort is put into providing the appearance of working toward safety, but at all times the primary target is maximum profit.

    If safety were the number one consideration cars would be a whole lot different, and there would be real laws preventing the inclusion of all the distracting toys. But when you can see the situation from the inside, it becomes clear that profit is what is the single main driver. Sometimes safety features are added to improve sales, but not if they add to the cost. The safety gimmicks such as stability control are added because somebody who can profit from selling and licensing them has lobbied for laws to include them, not because they will actually be a real benefit to other than a small minority of inexperienced drivers.

  6. Mr. Roques
    June 7, 2013

    I agree, safety is not the main target of any of this efforts. Adding entertainment (or infotainment) to the main console has its risks, very high risks actually.

    But car makers are catching up to the post-sale market, where people add multiple devices to improve their experience. 

    What I've seen recently is adapting the space in order to fit a already made and proved tablets (normally a 7″)… why aren't carmakers doing the same? I'd rather get a Nexus 7 than one made by the carmaker.

  7. William K.
    June 7, 2013

    The reason that the space will not accomodate your own smartphone or smart computer is hat it would allow you to not purcgase one from the automakers, and that will be a very high markup item for them. BUT wait just three years and the universal approach will arrive, right after somebody in the aftermarket starts to offer the conversion.

  8. Wale Bakare
    June 8, 2013

    @_hm, you can hardly shift blame this onto innovators or the universities for supporting inventions but everyone. We are all in it together. Isn't it? Unfrotunately reversal of this trend very difficult.

  9. _hm
    June 8, 2013

    @Wale: Yes, may be this type of changes are cyclic in nature. After few years, people may prefer auto to be quiet place to relax when going to office, going to home or an errand with family.


  10. William K.
    June 8, 2013

    Unfortunately, “enjoying nature” while driving can be just as distracting as using a cell phone or even text messaging. So don't substitute one fatal distraction for another. Driving is a full time task and while some can sometimes share attention with other activities, mostly dividing attention is quite unsafe. I do sometimes pull offof the road in order to safely focus my attention elsewhere, but I am one of very few who ever do that. PAY ATTENTION TO DRIVING!!! OK! Enjoying nature is just a different form of distraction. 

  11. _hm
    June 10, 2013

    @William: Yes, this happened to me when I was novice driver too. But as you graduate and gain experience, most auto driver enjot nature's bounty.


  12. elctrnx_lyf
    June 10, 2013

    Yeh, I do agree the nature is as distracting as using any electronics device while driving. But at the same time the fun of drive will be lost if too many electronics come into thecar just like the way TV has taken away the good home talk and even reached to the level of medium for any communication between family members.

  13. William K.
    June 10, 2013

    Electrnx, You are correct,and nature is certanly less  distracting than those electronic devices, which are intended to be a focus of attention. That is the fundamental difference, which is that nature is just there for us while all of those other things are there to attempt to get us to pay attention to them.

    BUT it is still vital to concentrate on driving, even after one has been doing it for many years, unexpected things still happen, such as falling rocks and runing children still pose a source of problems. So no matter how experienced one is, most of one's attention must be focused on driving.

  14. anddy11
    August 6, 2014

    The driving experience today can seem fascinating if you look at all the aspects the automakers promote. It's great to have the comfort and the devices at your fingerprint. However some people miss the old cars, since they claim the driving experience is more intense in those cars. There are some reviews about that on this used cars for sale in Pittsburgh PA. They should be eye openers for the automakers today, shouldn't they?

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