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CBR -- The race is on for car manufacturers and software companies to design the ultimate smart car, with a surprise visit by Apple to BMW indicating a possible partnership between the two firms.

An Apple delegation, including Cupertino's CEO Tim Cook, visited the German carmaker's headquarters last year to learn how BMW builds its i3 electric car, according to sources.

One of the sources told Reuters that the visit to the Leipzig factory did not result in a collaboration between Apple and BMW, as the iWatch maker is reportedly looking at creating a connected vehicle by itself.

The source added that BMW is also reluctant about sharing knowledge on how to develop the technology, as it does not want to become a supplier to a software or internet company like Apple. BMW executives have, however, shown to be open to license parts, according to the same sources.

The lack of trust in the industry is seen as an obstacle to the successful development of a connected car. Dr. Kevin Curran, senior member of the IEEE, told CBR: "A crucial barrier to smart car success is the lack of trust and collaboration between the major auto manufacturers.

Curran added that, for example companies like Ford, General Motors, Toyota, BMW and "all the other leaders" are all part of the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium, which is striving to deploy the infrastructure of tomorrow.

He said that "however, in reality they all go back to their workshops and continue to promote their own proprietary products".

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The Auto Care Association applauds the settlement announced this week by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against the MINI Division of BMW violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. As a result of official complaints to the FTC by the Auto Care Association and other organizations, the FTC has charged that BMW’s MINI Division violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act by telling consumers that BMW would void their warranty unless they used MINI parts and MINI dealers to perform maintenance and repair work.   

“It’s against the law for a dealer to refuse to honor a warranty just because someone else did maintenance or repairs on the car. As a result of this order, BMW will change its practices and give MINI owners information about their rights,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  

“Our government affairs department has worked diligently to bring this matter before the FTC and, while it’s been long overdue, we are thrilled to see them finally take action against the clear-cut violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act perpetrated by BMW’s MINI Division,” said Kathleen Schmatz, president and CEO, Auto Care Association. “It is our hope that all vehicle manufacturers are now paying close attention to their communications with vehicle owners concerning their warranties.”  

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act contains a provision that prohibits companies from requiring that consumers – in order to maintain their warranties – use specific brands of parts or specified service centers, unless the part or service is provided to the consumer without charge.

At last month’s LA Auto Show, many automakers were eager to show off their newest features in the coming year’s models. Among the most talked about features were those related to the connected car. To learn more, we sat down with two of the top automakers regarding next year’s models and what each has in store for the future of the connected car.

Company Name: BMW

Representatives: David J. Buchko of Advanced Powertrain and Heritage Communications, and Eric Sargent, Product Manager for ConnectedDrive

From a technology standpoint, what is BMW doing for the consumer experience in the car? This includes the audio, infotainment and telematics aspects.

It all comes back to the phones in the car. BMW ConnectedDrive, which is our umbrella term for the technologies we have in the car that keep the driver connected. There are several areas: Driver-assistance systems, integrated services in the car and phone integration. When the customer brings the phone into the car they get access to BMW online, which gives them stock prices, fuel prices, real-time traffic information and access to BMW apps that allow them to connect the phone to the car. We work with third-party app makers to help them (with) making their apps work with our car. From the consumer side of it we’re not asking them to do anything differently; we’re letting them use what they usually use for the phone but just bringing it into the car. The customer has the same app on the phone but can now put the phone down and control that app through the iDrive controller.

Is there a touch screen element to the UI (User Interface)?

There is no touch screen in our cars; it’s just the iDrive chip. There is a heads-up display but it is positioned a little bit higher than a traditional touch screen would be.  The driver uses the iDrive knob to select different options within the ConnectedDrive. It’s almost the mouse to screen approach. That way you can have one hand on the wheel and one on the console.

How will this technology hold up five years from now?

The BMW app platform has been around for about two-and-a-half years. With the emergence of new apps, the customer does not have do anything new to the car. The hardware will remain the same. We built an SDK (Software Development Kit) platform and work with our app partners to keep the apps updated.

How does the phone connect to the car?

There are two ways to connect your phone to the car: the regular way of connecting the phone through a USB port, and there is a spot in the center console to place the phone that does wireless charging, connected the phone via the satellite antenna and there is a fan that cools the phone while it charges. All the apps we currently have align with only the iPhone, but in July we announced that we now have Android compatibility. We’re working with Android app developers to integrate that technology for our customers. There is a USB port that works for charging any device.

Regarding hardware versus software upgrades, if a customer purchases a navigation package and finds there are critical updates needed, do they have to purchase new hardware? Or is that currently an available feature as a software upgrade?

Right now, that’s hardware because you do have to have the GPS antenna in the car. There are also aftermarket devices that could be installed in the car. We are moving towards the way of software over the need for hardware, but I’m not sure when we’ll be able to 100 percent separate the need for hardware from software. There is a lot of potential for phone integrations because phones get updated quickly and automotive hardware by consumer electronics standards operates at a glacial pace. Our model cycles are typically seven years with a mid-life cycle of three years. By that time the consumer will be on their third or fourth phone.

Regarding safety, how does the consumer remain safe with all the apps in the vehicle?

The way it’s designed by our teams, they made sure that it’s safe for a driver by utilizing lean integration. For example, on the cloud player it’s very much lead implementation. There are a couple of things you can do. There is a menu bar where you can say “What’s playing next?” and skip to another song. You can search for music on the cloud or search for music on your device; then there’s skip forward and skip back, which is really all you need to do when you drive. These features are the same when the car is stopped. Some would argue that we’ve come at app development somewhat slowly. That’s because we’re very careful about evaluating each app. We don’t advocate an open platform of throwing an app in there when it’s first created. There are certain things that could create a distraction for the driver that we want to avoid. 

What are your key safety features?

We have adapted cruise control and have something we announced earlier this year. The vast majority of our cars have advanced automatic collision notification with the BMW Assist function. There are two options: one is an SOS button that notifies our emergency call center; the other is in the event of an accident it will automatically call someone in our call center and send over all relevant data like where the accident occurred, how many people were in the car, were their seatbelts fastened? It sends over something called an urgency algorithm that helps the call center know what’s the likelihood of injury and they use that information to send over when they call the emergency response units that go to the scene. This technology came about when a man named Dr. Jeffrey Augenstein from, a pioneer in trauma surgery based out of Miami, was bothered with the idea that people would come in to the hospital and appeared to be perfectly fine but would later die due to some unforeseen trauma. He came to us with the idea that we could take the data from the crash sensors and use that to predict the likelihood that somebody might suffer a severe injury and transmit that likelihood to the emergency crews. That was something we worked really hard on with the folks in Miami. Ten years of service with BMW Assist is now standard as part of the BMW brand experience. It’s just a little SOS button but a lot of people don’t know what’s behind it. It’s a big thing.

Company Name: Chrysler

Representatives: Aamir Ahmed, UConnect Marketing and Advertising

What is Chrysler doing for the in-car customer experience?

The aftermarket had a leg up on us for a while because they were the first to incorporate large touch screens into vehicles. Step one was to have a connected radio to keep the cars fresh. The key thing was, when we launch new applications today, whether it be a Ram truck today versus a Ram truck a year ago, we wanted to make sure our customers are able to get the same experience. That goes for not just a new owner but if a customer goes to auto trader to buy a used car and finds that they don’t have navigation, they can have it added after-the-fact. If they have one of the 8.4s we can add navigation to it with dealer. We’re designing an eco-system where we can keep updating these cars. We’re building better and better cars that people are holding on to for a long time.

Where do you see personal electronics integrating into vehicles?

If you look at smartphone buyers, half of them say they plan on using their phone by hand if it’s not integrated into the car. Our objective as a responsible carmaker is to make sure that that phone is as integrated into the car as possible so they’re not at the device. People look at the screen size and ask why it’s that size. We didn’t do that arbitrarily. We could do a larger screen if we want to. Our objective is to provide as many carrots to drivers as possible like voice messaging, Internet radio. What we’re trying to do is get the phones out of people’s hands. We’re trying to improve the driving experience in a sense that you’re confident behind the wheel of your car because you’re not distracted by a peripheral device, but also because you understand how your system works. You can use the touch-screen or knobs to interact.

That’s what we’ve done with Uconnect. We’ve tried to develop a system that’s very feature-laden, but at the same time we’re not developing a checklist of features with cross-modalities, we’re trying to make sure that we have what the customer is looking for with an easy to use and easy to learn experience. We’re designing an in-vehicle experience that doesn’t work without a holistic interior design approach. That’s why when you look at the Durango’s and Grand Cherokee’s they aren’t just one experience, they all blend in to form this interior design approach. We also take common in-car features and make them our own; things like adaptive cruise control, lane guidance and lane system, those aren’t necessarily our features but we make sure they’re integrated in a relevant way to the vehicle. For instance, if the brake is on and a call comes through while you’re driving, it’ll be muted until you take the brake off so your focus is on the road. If someone says we’re late to the party with something, we’re not. We’re bringing the best one to the party. If you’re the life of the party, that’s what matters. That’s what we’re best at, bringing stuff that works and brings the customer experience to a new level. The most important thing is that it actually helps your drive.

How important is the audio quality for your customer?

Huge. That’s why for certain partners we allow them to change the bit rate they bring in. If you can change the bit rate so you’re not using as much data, go for it. Also, we’re improving our sound system. I think we’ve got a great stable of premium audio suppliers (JL Audio, Harman, Alpine). People always joke, why do we have so many brands? Last year CNET awarded us best audio system for the Charger. We’re not asking you to spend $8,000 on an audio system. Audio absolutely matters to us. Across the board it’s something we’re going to improve. It’s filling our niches for our customers that some others in the marketplace might not be doing but we’re doing in a different manner. Entertainment is a sensory experience. It’s about making something that’s highly technical seem less technical to a consumer. I don’t care how a car is built; I just want it to work how I want it to work. We’re trying to build great cars, where some of the other people out there are just trying to build brands. We’d rather sell great cars.

Tech Feature: Amped Up by Joey Knapp

Amplifiers are a key component to a great sounding audio system. I believe amplification is even more important in the mobile environment. In a home audio system, there is a very low environmental noise floor. Because of the low noise floor, a marginal amount of power is needed to provide good resolution in the audio playback. In addition, home audio speakers are much more efficient than their mobile counterparts. The automotive environment is very different than the home environment.

Amped up

Even a parked car with the engine turned off is susceptible to much more external noise than a home. Cars don’t have the benefit of dense building materials, heavy insulation, or double-pane windows. Starting the engine in a car will typically raise the noise floor in addition to adding a bit of tactile distraction. We own cars to be able to drive them. Whether for utilitarian purposes, or for enjoyment, at some point most every car will be moving. That movement brings in a whole other realm of noises to the vehicle cabin. Wind noise and road noise are two of the biggest enemies to a low cabin noise floor. Sometimes soundproofing can help address some of these issues, but they will never disappear completely. So, to have a great sounding audio system in a vehicle, an amplifier is paramount. Amplifiers help increase the signal level to overcome many of the typically present automotive interior noises.
Over my many years in car audio, I have installed hundreds of different amplifiers. The amplifiers have ranged in output from a few watts per channel, to thousands of watts. The locations in which the amplifiers are installed are usually narrowed down to the floor of the vehicle (whether the trunk or under a seat), under a rear deck of a trunk (leaving the trunk space useable), or the side or back panel of a trunk. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to install an amplifier in a place I had never before installed one. The location was the roll cage of a car.

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CNET -- Nokia has finally unloaded its mapping service.

The Finnish telecommunications giant said on Monday that it had agreed to sell its Here maps business to European automakers Audi, BMW and Daimler, who have agreed to pay a total of 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion, £2 billion, AU$4.2 billion).

The fact that the three major manufacturers have teamed up to buy Here shows how important mapping data is to the future of the car industry as new vehicles become more connected. The technology gives them a viable alternative to mapping services offered by Google and Apple. The deal also allows them to move past simple satellite-navigation-style directions and toward the next generation of navigation: cars that can collect data to share real-time updates on traffic, parking and other variables with other vehicles. Down the line, those highly accurate, up-to-date maps will be crucial for self-driving cars to know where they're going.

The 150-year-old Finnish company Nokia is best-known for making phones, especially in Europe. But since selling off its phone business to Microsoft last year, it has been reduced to its three less well-known divisions: Nokia Networks, making networking equipment; Nokia Technologies, researching and developing new technology; and Here. Nokia recently bulked up its telecom equipment business with the acquisition of rival Alcatel-Lucent.

Here is available to the public in the form of maps apps on Android, iOS and Windows Phone, but the majority of its business comes from licensing mapping data to other companies, particularly in the automotive industry. There were 17 million vehicles produced with navigation systems in 2014, according to research firm IHS. Those cars will all need a steady flow of map data.

Here is developing technology that will pull data from cars, phones and the furniture of the road to the cloud and deliver real-time and predictive mapping services. The business is also expected to play an important role in the development of self-driving cars.

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