Gadgets and budgets

Monday, July 16, 2007
Mark Evangelista used a copy of directions printed out from a computer while driving in Novi, Mich. The 45-year-old owner of a suburban Detroit construction company passed on the in-dash navigation system because of the $25 it would add to his monthly payment. (PAUL SANCYA ~ Associated Press)


As automakers race to inject as many safety, security, navigation and entertainment features as possible into their vehicles, they ought to keep Mark Evangelista in mind.

The 45-year-old owner of a suburban Detroit construction company says he's had General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service installed on several cars but he hasn't subscribed or taken advantage of its one-year-free trial.

On a Denali he just leased for his business, he skipped the in-dash navigation system because it would have added $25 to his monthly payment and limited the CD player to holding just one disc instead of six.

And forget about plugging an iPod into his ride someday.

"We're not dummies -- we know how to use the Internet," Evangelista said. "But driving a car is driving a car for us. It's not about playing games."

Deciding just what technological extras to put into a vehicle is a tough call for global automakers. One analyst predicts that more than half of all new vehicles within seven years will be equipped with technologies that will connect them with the outside world.

Yet automakers have to find a way to deliver interactive bells and whistles to the motoring masses in a way that's affordable and flexible -- and supports why people get behind the wheel.

Most U.S. drivers see their vehicles as a way to get around, not high-tech lounges, said Thilo Koslowski of Gartner Inc., a research company.

"You have to enhance the driving experience," he said. "It's not about replicating the Internet or movie experience in the car."

Automakers already have launched such systems as OnStar and BMW Assist. But grabbing a larger slice of the U.S. market, which is expected to grow from a $3.5 billion today to between $12 billion and $16 billion by 2012 to 2014, means finding a way to deliver even more.

"Everyone is understanding a piece of it; nobody is delivering the full solution," Koslowski said. "There's a business opportunity to tie the pieces together, deliver them at the right time in the right environment."

Automakers say they're finally figuring out what consumers want -- but have to prove it.

Koslowski said consumers are getting a peek of what's to come with Sync, Ford Motor Co.'s technology tie-in with Microsoft Corp. It which debuts this fall on the Ford Focus and will be on 11 other 2008 Ford models by the end of the year.

Sync allows drivers, using either voice recognition or steering wheel controls, to listen to their digital music players and hear text messages on their cell phones read aloud. Company officials say Sync, which also offers other features, probably will cost less than $1,000 as an option.

Koslowski and others say a system that lets drivers bring in their own portable devices has advantages over one where everything is built-in, like OnStar. Being able to add more functions after they've bought the vehicle is crucial to convincing consumers that the additional monthly cost is worth it.

What consumers want from interactive gizmos in their vehicles

The top 10 information and communication technologies U.S. consumers want in their vehicles:1. Embedded hands-free phone (53 percent of respondents)

2. Portable hands-free phone (45 percent)

3. Emergency/SOS function (44 percent)

4. Theft recovery (42 percent)

5. Digital satellite radio (40 percent)

6. Satellite navigation with wireless map updates (39 percent)

7. Adaptive cruise control (38 percent)

8. Integrated CD player with MP3 functionality (37 percent)

9. Lane departure warning system (36 percent)

10. Ability to connect digital audio player (36 percent)

SOURCE: Gartner Inc.

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