Chrysler is teaming up with Sprint to upgrade the maker’s Uconnect infotainment system, adding embedded features that will turn the vehicle into a “hot spot on wheels.”
The U.S. automaker was one of the first to offer telematics technology but, in recent years, slipped behind competitors such as Ford with its popular Sync technology. The new Uconnect system will add a variety of features, including voice-operated texting and the ability to connect a laptop computer or smartphone to the vehicle’s built-in WiFi hotspot.
“When we look at the car, we see another smartphone,” said Matt Carter, president of wholesale and emerging solutions at Sprint. “And what we’re really good at is really innovating customer experiences, devices, underlying platforms and bringing all of those together to create the kind of customer experience that we hope leads toward responsible driving for the passenger and driver.”
Virtually every major automaker now offers some form of telematics system. The challenge is to add features while also simplifying operation – which is why most makers are adopting advanced voice-control technologies. That’s also a plus as the industry comes under increased scrutiny from federal safety regulators worried about distracted driving – which is blamed for roughly one of every 11 U.S. traffic fatalities.
The new Uconnect upgrade permits a motorist to send a text message by speaking in a natural voice while also simplifying the process of entering an address into the navigation system, minimizing the number of prompts required.
The vehicle also can tap into the Sprint data network and allow passengers to tie in multiple devices, such as laptop computers or smartphones, via WiFi.
“It is basically providing a hot spot on wheels,” explained Matt Zenios, head of Chrysler’s Uconnect service.
The Sprint-based system isn’t entirely unique. It integrates a number of features found in other telematics systems, such as the ability to remotely lock and unlock the doors or have emergency responders automatically notified in the event of a crash – both services first introduced by General Motors’ OnStar.
The hot spot concept, meanwhile, was earlier introduced on the A7 and other Audi models.
Some of the basic features of the updated Uconnect will be offered without charge. But the hot spot and more advanced services will carry an additional fee, according to Chrysler.
Chrysler approached a number of telecommunications companies before agreeing to work with Sprint. The two companies won’t discuss the financial arrangements of the deal, however. Motorists will still be able to link phones from other service providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to the new Uconnect system.
The updated Uconnect will debut this autumn in the redesigned 2013 Ram 1500 pickup and new SRT Viper models and then be rolled out in other Chrysler products.
The maker is hoping to lure in the growing number of young buyers who are more keen on electronic technology than traditional automotive selling points like power and performance. But analysts warn that simply coming up with a high-feature telematics system doesn’t guarantee success.
Ford, for example, has been repeatedly criticized for problems with the MyFordTouch interface used to control its latest telematics system. It was one reason why the Ford Edge was listed by Consumer Reports as one of “Five Popular Cars to Avoid.”
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