Navigation screen is suppliers' window of opportunity

Automotive News reports on the growing deployment by automakers of LCDs in cars.

Automotive News

In January, Nissan Motor will steer what has been mainly a luxury-car feature--the navigation screen--into new territory when it offers the standalone option in the Sentra compact for $400.

The color screen, supplied by Robert Bosch, provides navigation but also can be connected to an iPod or MP3 player and a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.

The nav screen has become like the iPhone for cars--a gold mine for suppliers striving to provide applications such as traffic reports, parking-assist systems, and backup cameras.

This year automakers will install about 1.4 million navigation systems worth $2.6 billion in vehicles sold in North America, according to iSuppli, a Los Angeles consulting firm that tracks sales of consumer electronics. That's up from 890,000 systems worth $1.8 billion installed in 2004.

"By 2016, one in three cars will have a navigation system of some sort," says Phil Magney, vice president of iSuppli's automotive practice. If that prediction pans out, nav screens could be standard equipment in about 5.4 million vehicles sold annually in North America, he says.

Lots of action
Functions are proliferating on navigation screens.
• Active parking assist on Ford and Toyota vehicles
• Telephone controls
• Traffic and points-of-interest information
• Controls for the radio and air conditioner
• Route guidance
• Fuel economy performance information for hybrids
• Live video from backup camera
• TV programs

New source of revenue

The systems will be a growing source of revenue for suppliers as the screens appear on such inexpensive cars as the Honda Fit and Mazda3. Companies that make screens or have many screen-friendly safety and convenience applications include longtime suppliers Aisin, Blaupunkt, Bosch, Delphi, Denso, Panasonic, and Visteon.

On Ford Motor vehicles equipped with a nav screen and the optional active parking assist system from Valeo, the driver can see outside the vehicle as it automatically maneuvers into a tight space. The system, which uses ultrasonic sensors in the bumpers to measure the distance between two parked vehicles, costs as little as $535.

New suppliers also are moving in. In October, Chrysler Group said its 2010 models will be available with mobile TV from FLO TV, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, of San Diego. TV channels, delivered through a digital signal, are available on front-seat nav screens when the car is in park, to avoid driver distraction.

FLO TV's mobile service, available from dealers, has a suggested retail price of $629, plus installation. Subscriptions cost $119 a year or $299 for three years.

Once a screen is inside a vehicle, adding content usually can be done in two ways: with computer chips and software or with additional hardware, says Mark Peters, director of engineering and program management for car multimedia at Robert Bosch.

When Bosch was developing the navigation system for the Sentra, the supplier worked with Nissan on a buffet of options that could appear on the screen. Bosch delivered the screen, electronics, software--everything but the Bluetooth module, which Nissan buys from another supplier.

The Bluetooth module--essentially a computer chip that a supplier sells to either the navigation system manufacturer or the automaker--costs about $2.65, according to iSuppli. The automaker or supplier has to write software to enable the chip to work, and that's all it takes to add features such as a Bluetooth-enabled phone.

Booming business
One consultant thinks navigation systems will be installed in as many as one-third of new vehicles sold in North America by 2016. Here's iSuppli's estimate of the retail value of the systems.
2010: $2.9 billion
2011: $3.4 billion
2012: $4.1 billion
2013: $4.9 billion
2014: $5.6 billion
2015: $6.1 billion
2016: $6.5 billion

Search for new content

Peters says automakers and suppliers are looking for ways to provide content for the screens.

Automakers want to make it easier for consumers who are bringing more multimedia devices into their vehicles. And suppliers can make complex systems on vehicles easier to use by displaying information on the screen.

A good example: hybrid vehicles that show the state of the electrical charge and the charge flow.

Future features that could migrate to the screen, Peters says, include the contents of the owner's manual, more of the car's controls, Internet access and more video, such as lane departure warning.

Google Earth?

The key to adding content to the screen is the processing power of the nav system's computer, says Bob Gustafson, an engineering group manager at Delphi Corp.

"Once the large display is in the vehicle--that's usually driven first by navigation--then that opens the door to a lot of other features," Gustafson says. "And once you get a high-end-capability processor and display, a lot of features can come in at low cost."

One enticing feature in the works at Audi is the Google Earth mapping system, which would be connected to the Internet.

Instead of entering the street number and name on a keypad, drivers could click on an icon, such as a gasoline pump, and the system would give directions to the destination based on the car's current location.

Audi, which is working with Google, hopes to have the system available by 2011.

(Source: Automotive News)


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