Amazon is following up on Alexa’s successful penetration into smart homes with an incursion to embed the digital voice assistant in cars. There are plenty of third-party Alexa-compatible automotive aftermarket products such as GPS-powered navigation, dash cams, and headsets and headphones. Amazon’s Echo Auto, which was introduced last fall but has yet to ship, promises full Alexa functionality via a connection with the Alexa app on your smartphone.
Amazon’s best chances of owning the smart vehicle space lie within embedded automotive software systems. There’s even a group focused on Amazon’s in-car success: Amazon Alexa Automotive.
Amazon and car manufacturers began working together in 2016, Automotive News reports. At first, Alexa could report fuel levels and start vehicles. The next stage was Alexa working through car sound systems.
“The real North Star for us is to be embedded with all the cars,” Amazon Alexa Automotive vice president Ned Curic 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 also said the first targets would be luxury brands. Because upscale vehicles are more likely to include over-the-air (OTA) updating, they fit best with Amazon’s frequent software updates. Trickle-down technology innovation starting with a car maker’s most expensive brands. At times, as with Cadillac’s Super Cruise, the top tech is limited to the top model in the top brand’s lineup before appearing in the options list and eventually the standard equipment specs of other models in the brand.
Amazon’s Curic is keeping mum about the number of automakers with which his group is talking, or even naming names. Audi and BMW Group are leading the parade at this point, including BMW’s Mini brand.
According to Audi spokeswoman Amelia Fine-Morrison, Alexa first appeared in Audi’s new e-tron all-electric crossover. The next vehicle in the brand with Alexa onboard (or within the dashboard) will be the upcoming redesigned Q3. Eventually, but gradually, Fine-Morrison said, Audi will include Alexa in all models.
BMW’s senior vice president of digital services and business models Dieter May told Auto News the automaker’s desire to ensure a “seamless experience ” in BMW owners’ “digital lifestyles” between their homes and vehicles is the impetus behind partnering with Amazon and Alexa.
These are early days in connecting smart cars with smart homes. With a big player like Amazon already in full-bore mode, anyone else who wants a piece of the market either already is or better get busy wooing carmakers.