Ford CES Announcements Hint at a Snub to Google Car Technology

Two Ford announcements at CES suggest that it might not be easy for tech giants Google and Apple to get automakers to accept their connected-car technologies.

Ford Google Snub 2

Google’s effort to get automakers to integrate its technologies into their vehicles appears to be running into some headwind.

Earlier this week there was considerable speculation about Ford announcing a partnership with Google on an autonomous car project.

Yahoo Auto quoted unnamed sources that it claimed were close to the deal as saying the impending partnership was aimed at giving Ford greater access to Google’s self-driving vehicle technology.

Ford was expected to announce the collaboration during a press event on the company’s Smart Mobility initiative at CES 2016 this week. So far that has not happened.

Instead, Ford announced a partnership with Amazon under which the automaker will integrate its SYNC in-vehicle communication and entertainment technology with the Amazon Echo voice command system. The goal is to give Ford drivers a way to use voice commands to control vehicle functions such as starting the engine or checking the charge on an electric car from inside their homes.

The partnership with Amazon is in line with Ford’s previous statements about its plans not to let either Google's or Apple’s connected car technologies displace its own Sync technology. But it is likely to come as a blow for Google, which has made no secret of its desire to bring the company’s evolving Android Auto technology to connected cars of the future.

Android Auto already allows drivers to access the functions of their Android smartphone or tablet from the dashboards of cars that support the operating system. Google touts Android Auto as technology that lets Android apps be directly displayed and accessed on the vehicle’s screen via voice commands. Android Auto-compatible vehicles on its website include those from Ford, Chevrolet, General Motors and a number of other manufactures.

Ford’s partnership with Amazon is unlikely to impact that existing functionality. But unless Ford enters into a similar partnership with Google, it will be Amazon Echo that gives Ford owners voice-command functionality rather than Android Auto.

In another development that could impact Google ambitions in this space, Ford announced that Toyota will use Ford’s open source SmartDeviceLink software to let Toyota owners access smartphone apps from their vehicle dashboards.

Several automakers including Honda, Mazda, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Subaru also are exploring the use of the technology in their own vehicles, Ford said. SmartDeviceLink will allow owners of non-Ford cars to access smartphone apps like Spotify, iHeartRadio and Glympse using voice commands and dashboard controls, Ford said.

Toyota’s decision to pass up Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay in favor of Ford’s in-vehicle communication technology is seen by some as a sign of the auto industry’s determination to keep the giant mobile technology companies from dominating the emerging connected car market.

Ford in particular has been pushing for broader adoption of its open source SmartDeviceLink smartphone application interface within the auto industry. The company has already convinced automotive suppliers UIEvolution and QNX Software Systems to use the technology in future products. Now it wants more companies to do the same.

“The true benefit of a common smartphone app communications interface is that it creates an industry standard,” Ford executive director Don Butler said in the statement announcing the Toyota partnership. Such a standard will enable better experiences for consumers while giving car makers and others an opportunity to innovate he said.

It’s unclear how such moves will impact Google’s ambitions in this space over the long term, but it may make it more difficult at least in the short term for the technology giant to achieve its marketing goals.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.