Amazon expanding reach in the automotive industry

Amazon plans to continue talking its way into the automotive industry with its Alexa voice assistant.

The tech giant is expected to grow its Alexa-enabled offerings in the coming months and years, including a significant expansion into the embedded software systems of vehicles.

Bringing the popular voice assistant into vehicles is part of a growing automotive business portfolio for Amazon that includes a consumer research website and a substantial investment in electric-vehicle startup Rivian.

In 2016, automakers started partnering with Amazon to do rudimentary tasks such as checking fuel levels and starting the vehicle remotely. That grew to Alexa being enabled through a vehicle's sound system via an app and through automotive accessories with Alexa built-in.

"The real North Star for us is to be embedded with all the cars," Ned Curic, vice president of Amazon Alexa Automotive, told Automotive News. "That's where we want to get. We're working very hard to get there because we believe that is the best experience."

Curic declined to comment on how many automakers Amazon is in discussions with about embedding Alexa into their vehicles but said consumers should expect "a significant number of vehicles having access to Alexa" in the coming years.

Audi and BMW Group, including the Mini brand, are the first to begin installing Alexa into their vehicles' software system.

Luxury brands

Curic, a former executive with Toyota Motor North America, said starting with luxury brands was important because of their commitment to connectivity, including the ability to remotely update Alexa's software.

"We update our experiences constantly on a weekly basis, and that's not something the auto industry is used to," he said. "When we have embedded experience, it's quite important that experience is really solid, and obviously there will always be need to improve. We're working closely with them."

Audi plans to roll out Alexa gradually across its vehicle fleet, spokeswoman Amelia Fine-Morrison said. Audi launched Alexa on the new e-tron all-electric crossover last year. The next vehicle will be the redesigned Q3, she said.

BMW's partnership with Amazon for Alexa is about providing a seamless experience between their home devices and their vehicles for their "digital lifestyles," said Dieter May, BMW's senior vice president of digital services and business models.

Connecting the in-home and in-vehicle experiences is the aim of embedding Alexa in more vehicles, Curic said.

Voice-enabled devices have been adopted more quickly than many industry onlookers expected since Alexa launched in 2014 due to their hands-free convenience, connectivity and functionality.

EMarketer forecasts that in 2019 74.2 million people in the U.S. will use a smart speaker, up 15 percent over 2018. Amazon's Echo speaker with Alexa is expected to capture 63 percent of that market in 2019, according to eMarketer, a research company.

At home, Alexa devices allow owners to use voice commands to play music and get information ranging from weather forecasts to a store's location and hours. They also can control other smart home devices, such as a Nest thermostat.

‘Tons more time'

In the vehicle, Alexa gives drivers remote access to the technology. With greater integration, drivers could control everything a traditional voice command system could do, including placing phone calls and tuning the radio, along with controlling all smart devices in the owner's home. The prospect of Alexa in autonomous vehicles further opens up its potential use cases, according to Curic.

"Whatever happens, autonomous vehicles will give tons more time for consumers to do things inside the vehicle," he said.

"We see that sort of natural transition. It would be as if you're sitting on the couch at home."

Alexa is one of several ways Amazon is entering the automotive industry or partnering with automakers.

In February, the company led an investment round of $700 million in Rivian. It launched Amazon Auto, a consumer review website in 2016, and Amazon Web Services has been expanding its automotive presence, including Cox Automotive moving its infrastructure to the cloud-based operation.

Source: Michael Wayland   |
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