There are good days and bad days for most in the automotive industry but when headlines like these—‘GM to introduce Native Android Automotive OS for its vehicles from 2021’—pop up, it warrants a closer look from tech world aficionados. Is GM the first mover in this space? No, Polestar 2 and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance have already made announcements. In addition, I’ve heard from several industry sources that many OEMs are evaluating Native Android Automotive OS. So what makes the GM announcement significant is that a big mass market OEM is taking this route, especially when its average revenue per customer (ARPU) is significantly higher than the rest of the connected OEMs.

GM already has a thriving business model with respect to the connected services ecosystem due to a solid back-end in the form of OnStar. My guess is that this play with native Android Automotive OS is primarily due to its current generation of IVI stack which, I personally think, is slow with respect to boot time and buggy, with the HMI not really reflecting the OEM identity it is trying to achieve. This move of powering IVI with native Android Automotive OS is going to open up the Google Automotive Services (GAS) ecosystem with embedded google based services such as Google Play Store, Google Maps, and Google Assistant. Not to confuse this with Android Auto, which is more in the nature of being a projected feature, i.e., primarily mirroring your phone screen onto the head unit, and functioning just an interface. The other question that may arise is how much access will be given to native Android Automotive OS because any IVI stack needs to be connected to the Electrical / Electronic (E/E) architecture, i.e., the Controller Area Network (CAN) from where vehicle data can be pulled. On top of this is where all the device management and functional software performing vehicle related services such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment and navigation reside.

The following are some key points I see as being differentiators for Google Automotive Services:

  1. Marketplace – which is like an app store on wheels – can be a good starting point for retail purchases. For example, Tom Tom and Xevo have partnered for Point of Interest (PoI) based retail where the navigation engine is provided by Tom Tom, while all the retail transactions are carried out through Xevo’s platform. Google can do the same, if not better, with Google Maps. But what will become of Telenav which is currently the navigation engine provider for GM? Telenav’s stocks plummeted once this news hit the market.
  2. In-vehicle transactions will also become safe and robust through Google Pay. Customers are already performing such transactions this through their phones, doing it through the head unit will merely be an extension.
  3. The voice assistant game will get even more interesting with Google Assistant vs Amazon Alexa vs Microsoft Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) vs OEM native assistants. Even though Alexa Auto has opened up its Software Development Kit (SDK), a pure play Android Automotive integration can mean it becomes a complete Google Assistant game where not only does it carry out vehicle functions, it also performs car-to-home and home-to-car functions. On the other hand, Amazon Alexa is comparatively famous across North America, backed by its use case as a retail assist. Microsoft’s VPA has much better business play when it comes to working closely with OEMs; it does not hamper OEM branding since OEMs are not only helped with building their own digital assistant but the data is also owned by them. This is what any OEM would like to hear from a tech vendor. In essence, therefore, are we going to witness more assistants in the vehicle, taking a hybrid approach? My guess is that all these will be very use case dependent, as OEMs with native digital assistants would prefer their being used for certain vehicle functions in order to retain some form of brand identity. Wake word will play a crucial role in making that customer connect.
  4. With respect to the IVI stack itself, my guess is that there will be a tiered approach, meaning there will be an entry, mid-range and high end IVI stack. The lower end will comprise all OEM related Apps/App store and services and with the progression of vehicle trims / price tags, more of Google’s Play store will be integrated into the stack.
  5. Much of the talk has also been around how much of the data will be accessed by native Google’s Android Automotive vs OEM themselves. I have heard from industry sources that the Terms & Conditions hammered out are the most crucial when it comes to deals such as these. Hence, no one’s opinion really matters, it is totally up to the OEM and the vendors involved, in this case Google. One thing is certain though and that is that Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and vehicle location will play a pivotal role in data monetization which opens up a slew of opportunities for both the OEM and Google.

In any case, OEMs looking to implement GAS will probably look at testing it on select vehicle models, eventually extending it to the rest of their brands. This is much like what happened in the case of Android Auto and Car Play integration.

In a nut shell, while there might be several paths that an OEM takes, the end goal remains the same – achieving better customer experience. Of course, there is no point in doing any of this if the customer does not pay for the experience, be it the current in-vehicle scenario or for L3, L4 and L5 autonomous scenarios.

What could be the bigger play for GAS?

One radical thought I had was: what if all this data being collected will be used to strengthen the localization and path planning for Waymo’s AV stack, which has already amassed several million driving miles. But that could be just one aspect of it, the bigger picture for Google could be very different. It could become the trusted partner for the plethora of Smart City initiatives across the world, meaning it could become the central gateway provider for various digital services using a unified OS platform. It could in this role look at, for example, being a payment gateway provider, positioned as a mobility gateway not only for car sharing and parking, but also for airlines / transit services and, last but not the least, retail services like autonomous vehicle (AV) last mile parcel delivery services.

The capability to scale efficiently and the need to invest financial resources wisely are vital to sustain any business model. GAS has the financial backing and complete data handling platform to scale in a cost-effective manner, essentially establishing itself as an integral partner for the future of mobility.

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