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Premium automakers go west in tech race. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

Premium automakers go west in tech race
Mercedes-Benz and JLR set up R&D centres to win the new tech war.
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On a dark desert highway, the automotive tech rush has commenced. We hear several of the world's biggest automotive players are heading to U.S. West Coast to set up their own R&D centres. The premium companies - like Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and Volkswagen. Indeed, Mercedes only opened a brand new R&D centre in the heart of Silicon Valley, last November. It is not alone. Volkswagen also opened its own tech centre in Portland, Oregon.

It has become so serious that it's being called a new battleground. "Customers are increasingly expecting smartphone features and interface styles in their vehicle. This is one of the big reasons automakers want to be in Silicon Valley. They want to be close to the innovative businesses that can offer cross pollination." said IHS Automotive senior analyst for infotainment and telematics Jack Bergquist.

With immediate proximity to leading innovators such as Google and Apple, it makes perfect sense to locate where the next big revolution may occur. Central to the battleground is the dashboard. The importance for connectivity in infotainment and telematics is seen as being vital in the winning of future premium customer share.

With future vehicles having a long gestation period, automakers foresee having the capability of 'over-the-air' downloads for apps and functional upgrades. So much so, it's not hard to imagine that the next generation of connected tech innovations will come from a location as creative as the west coast of American.

Anything else?

And if we need proof of all this, consider Audi. Only last week the premium brand launched its Audi Smart Display in collaboration with Google. By using a WLAN interface over an Android OS, passengers will now be able to control a car's functions, controls, and of course, infotainment. Essentially then, networking the entire vehicle to the passenger. We even hear of mobile Skype capability.

Let the battle commence.

Mark Gallivan - 20 Jan 2014

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