It takes years of design, development and tooling before a new vehicle start of production, while new consumer devices and applications come to market with relentless frequency. And buyers now expect their in-vehicles to keep up. Just as they now expect their cell phones and handhelds to support new applications and easy upgrades to new technologies, they will soon expect their in-vehicle systems to download and integrate the latest consumer applications, adopt next-generation technologies and interface with new consumer devices.
Discordant development cycles
The problem for automobile manufacturers is rather different than for makers of consumer devices such as cell phones and media players, however. Not only do automobiles cost significantly more than these devices, but they must work — and work well — for far longer. A cell phone or a media player may work for 10 years, but few people hold on to them for more than a year or two. They are relatively inexpensive, and consumers have shown themselves more than willing to replace them in order to update to a newer technology, or even simply to accompany a change in wardrobe.
Few people are willing — or can afford — to replace a $30,000 vehicle to upgrade a media player or refresh the look and feel of their digital dashboard. Few are even willing to accept the inconvenience of bringing their car in to a dealership. Cars are supposed to last, but, paradoxically, they must now also support consumer applications and technologies that in some cases may not even be available when a car is sold.
Bumper to bumper responsibility
Automobile manufacturers assume and maintain responsibility for the quality of their vehicles — from bumper to bumper. This responsibility includes the consumer technologies in their vehicles.
If an in-vehicle video player fails, or even if it cannot be updated to support a new and popular codec, it is to the automobile manufacture that car buyers will turn; and it is their vehicles’ brands and reputations that will suffer if the issue is not satisfactorily resolved. Automobile manufacturers must, therefore, have a viable long term strategy that ensures, not only the continued reliability of the consumer technologies in their vehicles, but also that these technologies can be easily and inexpensively updated through the entire life cycles of their vehicles.