Connected space

Maintaining the pace of innovation is tricky, but improved links with consumer electronics firms are helping SEAT develop its in-cabin technologies. It’s a direction the firm’s chairman is eager to continue

Staying at the forefront of technological development is difficult for any firm. The financial investment, staff time and innovation required make it a challenge even for the largest companies.

And it becomes harder still as consumers place greater emphasis on technologies beyond improvements to vehicle efficiency and performance.

Accordingly, SEAT’s chairman, Jürgen Stackmann, has found himself in meetings not just with peers from Volkswagen Group and its various suppliers, but also flying to South Korea to tour Samsung’s expansive research facilities in Seoul. 

“We were impressed by Samsung City. Seeing 20,000 engineers working on phones is amazing,” he says. 

The fact that Stackmann and other members of the SEAT board take the time to visit companies such as Samsung reflects where importance is increasingly being placed in the automotive industry. Improving infotainment and connectivity in vehicles is a key driver to grow sales.

“For me, it’s a top priority,” says Stackmann. “Many of our customers define innovation much more on their phones, which is why I was happy with the launch of Full Link.” 

The Full Link system was developed by SEAT’s engineers to allow users to connect their smartphones to the vehicle’s infotainment system using MirrorLink, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It forms a direct connection between the phone and the vehicle’s display and can be used with Android 5.0 and iOS 7.1 or later versions.

Unfortunately for some consumers, there is no compatibility with Windows devices yet, but the reason is simple, according to Stackmann: “There is no offering from Microsoft because it hasn’t made up its mind. We believe that it will go to MirrorLink or to a system that we can eventually apply, but we have to wait.”

That’s a frustration for Stackmann and his research and development teams working in this sphere, because they want to be as inclusive as possible. The ideal would be that, no matter what device someone has, it can be used in the cabin.

“We are reacting to an industry that has a fraction of the lead time of the automotive sector. That is why we work with companies such as Samsung, because they then realise what rhythm we are in,” he says. During a single generation of a vehicle, consumer electronics firms will produce six or seven generations of phones, which means a different approach to development processes, and also to the longevity of devices. An OEM will develop a vehicle for three years, build it for seven, and maintain servicing levels for 10 years. That model could never apply to a smartphone where, if you have a problem after three years, generally the only answer is to get a new one.

“So we need a system that allows you to buy a car today, change your phone in seven years and still get a connection that you would be satisfied with,” says Stackmann. “That’s a challenge, because if you speak to someone today and ask them what is your vision for applications in five years, they have no clue.” 

tags: September 2014 SEAT Connectivity