Internet access is predicted to become a standard in-vehicle feature as more global motor developers invest in communicative technology. Back in 2009, German auto maker Audi was at the forefront of this development with the market introduction of Audi connect®, a system which basically turns the car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing the driver to use Google Maps on the dashboard and passengers to connect to apps from their smartphones or tablets. The system was introduced to the U.S. in 2011. Anupam Malhotra, Senior Manager Connected Vehicles, Audi of America, says that a leading customer satisfaction survey shows that the current generation of American Audi buyers rank the Audi connect service as the second largest factor increasing the appeal of Audi vehicles – just behind design and drivability. And the company continues to improve upon its in-vehicle connectivity services: the new 2015 Audi A3 models will come with 4G LTE capability.
Mr. Malhotra is responsible for all the operations of the Audi connect infotainment system and the formulation and execution of the company’s connected-vehicle strategy with Audi AG. With fifteen years of experience in automotive connectivity under his belt, he joined Audi in mid- 2010. Since then, he says, they’ve introduced several connectivity-related innovations to American Audi owners, establishing thought and technology leadership in the broadband-based invehicle service space in the process.
Audi was the first global auto manufacturer to offer factory-fitted invehicle Wi-Fi connectivity with the launch of Audi connect. Evolved since then, Audi connect gives drivers and their passengers a true view of their route with Google Earth and real-time Sirius XM® Traffic information via enhancements to the Audi MMI Navigation plus system.
Audi connect also features real-time localized weather, news and fuel prices; Google Voice Local Search for detailed information about travel destinations, such as restaurant or hotel hours, pricing and customer reviews; and the myAudi Destination feature, which allows users to log on to Google Earth from virtually any location in the US and download up to 50 destinations to the vehicle.
Mr. Malhotra emphasises that Audi offers different business models for different markets, as different telecommunications standards have to be taken into account: Europeans have always used GSM phones with exchangeable SIM cards, whereas in the U.S., the CDMA cell standard did not require exchangeable SIM cards so that never became part of the culture. In the US, Audi adopted an embedded connectivity approach and teamed up with leading telecommunications providers.
Together with T-Mobile USA, the company offers Audi owners a data plan allowing them to obtain real-time news, weather and fuel prices, access to Google Earth and Google Voice Local Search, and the ability to retrieve information conveniently and securely over Wi-Fi through the Audi connect system. Passengers in models featuring Audi connect can enjoy broadband connectivity for up to eight devices.
More recently, the company announced the partnership with AT&T to bring LTE capability aboard the upcoming 2015 A3 sedans. When the vehicles, and hence the feature, become available in the US, AT&T’s wireless customers will have the option to share their smartphone or tablet data plans with their cars. Owners can use the connection for faster access to Google Earth, Google Street View and web radio stations, as well as to get social media alerts on the Audi connect navigation system. Up to eight passengers can also take advantage of the long term evolution speeds by using Audi connect as a WiFi hotspot. While the feature’s limited to the 2015 A3 family for now, Audi plans to include it on the new and refreshed models bound to come out in the future.
Mr. Malhotra emphasises that the partnership with AT&T does not mean they’re cutting ties with T-Mobile. “We continue to work with T-Mobile, but decided to partner with AT&T specifically for their 4G LTE platform: we needed the strongest and widest LTE deployment with the ability to support 4G speeds in non-LTE markets as well, and that’s exactly what they have to offer.” 4G LTE allows Audi to add more value to Audi connect, he adds. “You can stream information over a 3G network but the experience may not be the smoothest.
For example, with 4G/LTE, passengers can bring their own device and if they want to, they can each run their own high-definition video stream without encountering any problems. For drivers, 4G also creates enhanced services including picture navigation support, social media and mobile app integration with access to more than 7,000 Web radio stations.”
On that note, he emphasises that safety is always a concern for Audi when they introduce new connectivity services. “We believe connectivity can actually enhance safety: with Google Voice search, for example, allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while searching for information or for their favourite radio station. We also plan to offer the Audi phone box which uses a universal planar antenna integrated into the centre armrest’s phone storage tray.
The telephone uses near-field coupling to communicate with the flat planar antenna, which routes signals via an amplifier to the car antenna greatly enhancing cell phone performance in the vehicle. In the future, Audi will also bring contactless charging to the A3 series. Ensuring that their smart phone doesn’t run out of power is a headache for many people, and to have the option of charging it in their car entices them to keep their phone safely in the box and out of their hands while they’re driving.”
Wireless charging will be enabled by electricity flowing from a coil in the floor of the Audi phone box via induction to the Qi standard to a receiver coil in the smartphone. The receiver coil can be integrated into the battery, a retrofittable film or the phone cover. The telephone can be used without restriction while charging and can be controlled via the MMI system in the accustomed Audi manner.
Mr. Malhotra believes that consumers increasingly expect that what they do at home and at play in terms of their information and entertainment lifestyles, they will also get in their Audi vehicle. “It’s not even a subject for discussion at Audi. Infotainment will become a core differentiator among luxury brands going forward; that will be a given.” Already, Audi connect has become one of the top reasons that customers are telling dealers they want to buy an Audi. The company aims to provide more ‘industry firsts’ in infotainment in the future.
Audi of America, Inc. and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands globally. The Audi Group delivered 1,575,500 vehicles to customers globally in 2013, and broke all-time company sales records for the 4th straight year in the U.S. Through 2018, AUDI AG will invest about $30 billion on new products, facilities and technologies. Visit www.audiusa.com or www.audiusanews.com for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.
This company profile appeared in an edition of Zillion, a business-to-business publication by Zillion media. The business review is a bi-monthly business magazine that features company reports on international companies and organisations.
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