Saturday, 20 July 2013

Renault Nissan - Will they be the Electric Vehicle Pioneers?

It is some time since I looked into what the automotive industry is doing with tech startups. But now that Startupbootcamp HightechXL is on a global hunt for high-tech startups, it is time to revisit the business and catch up.

For me, the first time I realised that the automotive industry was getting serious about adapting to meet consumer demand was way back in December 2010. During the Leweb10, a sort of (European SxSW but better) I remember that Renault Nissan gave away the keys to one of its new electric city vehicles, the Twizy.

Back then, Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn suggested that despite the recession there will always be a market for personal mobility. The car industry needs to adapt to maintain its position as the most desirable object for most people. That means responding to concerns about energy - also opening up the car as a platform for application developers rather like the iPhone and Android.

Ghosn was bullish in 2012, noting that the personal mobility industry, was still worth 2 trillion dollars. He was clear that the entire industry will have to to agree on open standards to avoid the developer nightmares we've seen in the mobile handset space. I made a short reportage from LeWeb in 2010.

Since that video was made, more than 3 years have passed. Renault has launched that platform R-link, although it seems to be only known amongst French developers. It's clear to me that the car industry is still struggling with apps. I note that the streaming services as well as catch-up feature prominently. Radio is still a frequency. I maintain that most people don't shout frequencies at the dashboard, no matter how catchy the jingle. Major problem with Renault is that they haven't spent any money at all to explain the story in English.

It turns out that R-LINK consists of three things: an integrated tablet in your car with a 17-inch screen, a connection via a local agreement with a mobile operator, and a combination of both integrated services and a Renault app store, an iTunes-like store. Technically, it's all working. But the extent of implementation seems to vary from market to market with France leading the way. I would suggest that language might have a lot to do with it.

Late last year (December 2012) the BBC's Hard Talk programme did a follow-up woth Ghosn, who was less confident than when I saw him in 2010. Wonder if they will make it? Or do these giant corporations have such huge problems thinking outside the box?

So anyone had experience of working with car manufacturers building hardware and software? If so please get in touch.