PARK RIDGE, Ill. Capping an intense four-year effort, the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C) introduced a hefty new multimedia standard Wednesday (Feb. 26) to a global auto industry that has begun to question the value of telematics.
Release 2 of the automotive interface specification, which is more than 2,000 pages long, describes common interfaces for the addition of hands-free cell phones, navigation systems, CD players, DVD systems, video screens, digital radios and a host of other electronic products.
"This gives a common baseline for everyone to design their products to," said Pom Malhotra, program manager for AMI-C. "Up to now, there hasn't been a common standard for automakers that wanted to introduce Bluetooth or gateway technologies into a vehicle."
Automakers and first-tier electronics suppliers have long believed the presence of such a standard would be a huge benefit to them. Up until recently, car manufacturers typically had to reengineer vendor products, which were not built to any specific standard. In the process, they lost valuable time and fell behind the electronic industry's rate of innovation. As a result, many automotive components still are several years behind their desktop counterparts in terms of electronic performance capabilities.
Automakers wanted the multimedia standard in preparation for the emergence of telematics, which is defined as the linking of data communications and computers. They formed AMI-C four years ago as part of an effort to standardize the technology for what they assumed would be a multi-billion-dollar-a-year market. Eight automakers Fiat, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Honda, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault and Toyota are currently members.
However, many analysts have backed off earlier forecasts of a booming telematics business. The auto industry, which seemingly could not create a standard fast enough, is now putting many of its telematics projects on hold.
"Companies aren't pressing terribly hard for this [standard] anymore," said Paul Hansen, publisher of The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics. "Investment in telematics has cooled."
Building on the specs
Still, electronics vendors are hoping interest in telematics will increase if the economy picks up, and they say they'll need the standard when that happens.
The AMI-C Release 2 specifications differ from the initial version in that they provide a validated standard spec product developers can use, while Release 1 was considered a conceptual vision statement. "It's not just a set of requirements," Malhotra said. "It's a set of specifications you can build to."
The new release defines a common architecture and standardized interfaces, making it possible for all vehicle manufacturers to take advantage of emerging multimedia products. The specifications include an architectural overview, system requirements, vehicle interface requirements and AMI-C use cases. Those documents can be downloaded from AMI-C's web site. Additional documents, including specifications for application interfaces, will be published over the next few months as legal and technical reviews are completed.
AMI-C representatives said the standards group is moving to a third phase in which it will focus on "sponsored projects." That means automakers will use the revised specs to build devices for production, or they will add to the existing spec and take it in different direction. Much of that work will be proprietary to each automaker, Malhotra said.
"In the next phase, a lot of the work will be specific to each company's applications," Malhotra said. "If those applications are tied to an automaker's particular platform or vehicle, then AMI-C doesn't need to get involved."
The organization said it wants to lower membership fees will serve as an enticement to bring back three key automakers, DaimlerChrysler, BMW and Volkswagen, that left two years ago because they felt the organization was moving too slowly toward standardization. "If you're DaimlerChrysler, BMW or Volkswagen, you now have the opportunity to join AMI-C at bargain basement prices," said Scott McCormick, assistant vice president of AMI-C.
AMI-C repesentatives also said economic slump has not changed the urgent need for telematics standards. "The sense of urgency is still there," said Malhotra. "The members feel that they need the standards in order to accelerate the pace of telematics."
Analysts, however, said telematics is less of a priority for most automakers. Earlier estimates had telematics growth soaring by now, ultimately reaching revenues of $40 billion per year by 2010. Most analysts are cutting that estimate by more than half. "The growth of telematics is inevitable," said Hansen. "But there's not a lot of money available right now for risky investments. Until that changes, we're not going to see many major telematics projects."