Infotainment supplier NNG isn’t a corporate giant like Apple or Google, but it is in the vanguard of a movement aimed at helping automakers customize cars and trucks in a way that’s never been done before, using infotainment and connectivity as a means of creating a new type of vehicle DNA.
This conversion involves using the human-machine interface to form a special bond between the consumer and a vehicle brand. Your car won’t just drive well and have comfortable seats; it also will know your favorite music, learn your habits and anticipate your needs. And if you are headed to Chicago, it will warn you if there is bad weather along the way.
Millions of consumers around the world have formed a unique connection with Apple’s user interface and its amiable Siri personal digital assistant. Automakers want to emulate this kind of user experience, known as UX in tech circles, throughout the vehicle cockpit using OEM-specific apps, better map displays and dozens of other features to create loyalty to a vehicle brand, not just a smartphone.
“This is the real value of the connected car. Once you build up a profile, once the car knows about you, you aren’t going to want to buy another brand because you are going to become comfortable with that experience,” says Jim Robnett, vice president-business development at NNG North America.
“If we do our job right and the OEMs do their job right, it will be almost a little uncomfortable for you to be in another car that doesn’t act the same way. This is all about an ecosystem with The Cloud, the smartphone and the car, with you in the middle. We’re trying to make that just a very pleasant and valuable experience,” Robnett says.
The strategy also involves limiting the expansion of Apple and Google in vehicle interiors. Most folks love these companies and their products and invite them into their homes every day, but they don’t want Apple and Google controlling every aspect of their lives. Apparently automakers are starting to feel the same way.
“I think you are seeing some resistance to the idea that they let Apple and Google come in and commoditize that type of experience,” Robnett says.
In fact, it is widely believed that BMW, Audi and Daimler recently pitched in together to outbid competitors for Nokia’s Here digital mapping business so they could develop mapping and precision navigation systems on their own instead of relying on outside parties.
Apple and Google technologies are offered in some vehicles in the form of Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. These are stripped-down versions of their operating systems that display the same information on vehicle display screens that people have on their smartphones. But Robnett says outside systems never will be as deeply integrated or customized as true OEM-branded navigation solutions.
Even though its navigation software is used by most of the world’s automakers and can be found on both the most-expensive and least-expensive cars in the world, Budapest-based NNG is not a well-known name in the auto industry because, until recently, it has been a Tier-2 supplier to companies such as Denso, Panasonic, Visteon and others.
Among NNG’s strengths is being able to cost-effectively offer geography-specific navigation and displays. Japan, China and India require very different mapping information than the U.S. and Europe, Robnett says. In Japanese cities, it is easier to find a location with a phone number than a street address, and in many urban areas in India, there are no street names.
The company also creates exquisitely rendered maps that display every detail of buildings and even show shadows in real time to give drivers the most realistic depiction possible. The difference between this map display and the usual fare is a high-definition 3-D movie compared with a 1980 VHS tape.
NNG is expanding now with new offices in Detroit, Japan, Brazil, China and India. And the main reason it is doing this, Robnett says, is because OEMs now want to deal directly with navigation suppliers.
“We are getting a strong pull from our OEM customers to help them develop unique solutions even as they bring in Apple and Google to satisfy some customers,” he says.