Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Detroit — General Motors (GM) will use embedded Google technology to power navigation, voice-activated controls and other vehicle infotainment functions starting in 2021, in a win for Alphabet in the race with Amazon and other technology companies to control dashboards.

GM said it will offer Google Assistant, Google Maps and other apps available through the Google Play store in all its vehicle brands outside China, which is GM’s largest single market. GM said the first vehicles with built-in Google infotainment technology will be launched in 2021, with more models rolling out in the following years.

Google has previously struck deals to embed infotainment technology in cars built by allied car makers Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi and Volvo Cars, owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely.

Amazon is wooing car makers to embed its rival Alexa voice assistant technology in vehicles.

For years, GM and other vehicle makers have been reluctant to share dashboard space with Google, Apple and other tech companies. Car makers feared losing control of valuable data, and having their brands eclipsed by powerful Silicon Valley names.

Consumers are, however, forcing them to shift gears. Connecting smartphones and apps to cars can be a clumsy experience because of car makers’ poor technology, but having functionality built in from internet giants has started to make for a smoother experience.

“We have the ability today to give commands to vehicles with embedded voice assistants. It is very limited,” Santiago Chamorro, GM’s vice-president for its global connected customer experience, said in an interview. “With Google’s voice assistant it is a better experience for them.”

Patrick Brady, Google’s vice-president of engineering, said the issue of harvesting and monetising data is “blown out of proportion” when it comes to cars. “We are working to bring services into the car,” he said. Google will not have access to data about the way an individual drives, or data about the vehicle’s maintenance needs, he said.

GM could, though, enable customers to schedule vehicle maintenance using Google’s voice commands, Chamorro said.

The car maker said pricing for packages that include Google services will be set closer to vehicle launches. GM will continue to offer Apple’s CarPlay and AndroidAuto to allow consumers to project a version of their smartphone screen onto a dashboard screen.

A pioneer

GM was a pioneer in offering drivers an on-board concierge service through its OnStar telematics system, which connects drivers to human operators. Some of the services those operators provide, such as turn-by-turn navigation, Google technology delivers with its automated system.

Chamorro said GM will continue the OnStar service, which GM has promoted recently as a form of insurance, connecting motorists to an operator who can help in an emergency. “That is fundamentally a human activity,” Chamorro said. “We have 100 trained technicians” who can respond when an OnStar customer is in danger.

For Google, the GM agreement offers the potential of embedding technology in as many as 3.6-million cars annually — the number of vehicles GM sold outside China last year. The Renault-Nissan alliance sells more than 10-million vehicles a year. Google’s Brady said the company is discussing deals with other car makers but for now is focused on launching embedded systems with GM, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi and Volvo and making those partnerships successful.

Reuters