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Google joins with GM, Honda, Audi for Android-powered cars

An expected auto alliance backing Google's OS is unexpectedly broad with the arrival of the world's largest carmaker. The first Android vehicles will arrive this year.

Josh Miller/CNET

Google has launched a partnership with carmakers General Motors, Audi, Honda, and Hyundai, as well as with chipmaker Nvidia, to bring the Android operating system to vehicles in 2014.

The group, called the Open Auto Alliance, aims to marry Android's widespread use and app support with openness and customization, according to the group's announcement Monday, the opening day of CES 2014.

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"The OAA is dedicated to a common platform that will drive innovation, and make technology in the car safer and more intuitive for everyone," the group said. Its "open development model and common platform will allow automakers to more easily bring cutting-edge technology to their drivers, and create new opportunities for developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe and scalable way."

The alliance is significant for the auto industry. Although a Google partnership will help carmakers adopt mature, secure, actively maintained software with rich services quickly, it also means they're relying on an outside partner for core technology. Computing and software will become only more important in driving as vehicles become more computerized, online services for navigation and communication spread, and cars begin to form network links with each other and with road infrastructure like traffic lights.

Android will be extended with car-specific features, the alliance said, adding that it would share details later.

An Android partnership with Audi had been expected, but the OAA turns out to be significantly larger with GM, the world's largest automaker, on board -- not to mention Honda and Hyundai. Audi already had a Google partnership for satellite and Street View imagery.

The arrival of Android in automotive computing systems should help hasten the arrival of connected cars, but it's not clear exactly where Android will end and other car electronics will begin. GM, for example, will pair the mobile OS with its OnStar communication technology.

The partnership also could help pave the way for incorporation of Google's self-driving car technology. Even if that technology doesn't use Android itself, the OAA is a tight technology partnership for essential computing services, and that could make it easier to rely further on Google technology.

The prospect of a driver playing games and updating Facebook while on the road opens new risks, but the allies put a strong emphasis on safety in the announcement.

"We have been in contact with government agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)," the OAA said. "Our goal is to build an experience that helps drivers get what they're looking for without disrupting their focus on the road."

Google isn't the only computing company angling for a piece of the car-software action. Apple is working on integrating iOS devices with car electronics, though not necessarily by building devices straight into cars. And Ford has had a close partnership with Microsoft for years with its Sync technology.