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China poses challenge for Nissan-Google partnership

YOKOHAMA, Japan — The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance is accelerating its global push for connectivity and mobility services through a partnership with Google covering mapping, navigation and infotainment. But there’s one big stumbling block on the way: China.

Google services — which include Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play — are unavailable in China because of Beijing’s industrial policy.

The Google partnership, announced last month, is a key feature in Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi’s plan to step up its connectivity offerings and catch up with rivals General Motors and Volkswagen Group.

“For China, it will not be Google services,” said Kal Mos, who joined the alliance in March as global vice president for connected vehicles. “It will be something else, depending on local service providers in China,” he told reporters last week at Nissan Motor Corp. headquarters here.

The alliance is evaluating the situation in China to find an equivalent of Google services that are also available in other markets globally, he said.

Through the technology partnership with Google, the alliance expects to offer a better user experience by installing Google’s Android operating system in the dashboard of its vehicles.

“What we are doing is not just putting the Android Operating System and infotainment system into the car,” Mos said. Doing so, he said, is part of the alliance’s strategy to make more app choices available for vehicle owners, just as people often use Google Maps on their iPhones.

Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi plan to introduce the Android-based connectivity system by 2021. As part of their midterm business plan, the three automakers also seek to have 90 percent of alliance vehicles connected in key markets by 2022.

China, the world’s biggest auto market, presents a challenge and an opportunity for the alliance, as China is moving ahead of other markets in terms of connectivity and demand for connected services, Mos said.

It is now common there to pay for virtually every transaction via smartphone. The tech trend signals a broader shift to a cashless economy, and as a result, Chinese car buyers increasingly expect the same connectivity in their in-vehicle experiences.

Mos points to the act of paying for services while driving. “You might think of this as a ‘nice-to-have’ in the U.S. or in Japan. But in China, it might actually be a ‘must-have,’ ” he said. “That’s why connectivity is very critical in China.”

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