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The amount of time US consumers spend in cars — on average, US drivers spend nearly an hour driving each day — presents an opportunity for tech giants to expand their engagement with users, and players like Google and Amazon are looking to take advantage.
Their digital assistants can act as a central hub for traditionally stratified forms of in-vehicle entertainment such as radio, podcasts, and music streaming services; they can also provide a hands-free means of controlling devices such as smartphones, smart home appliances, and vehicle climate control systems.
Amazon made a series of announcements that illustrate their strategy to expand access to consumers through Alexa Auto:
- New automaker partnerships. Amazon-backed electric carmaker Rivian — which plans to supply over 100,000 delivery vans for Amazon beginning in 2021 — and Italian supercar maker Lamborghini signed up to integrate Alexa into future in-car infotainment systems. This adds to an extensive list of automaker partners that includes Ford, Audi, BMW, GM, and Toyota. Even consumers with older cars can access Alexa through the Echo Auto device, which connects to automotive speaker systems via Bluetooth or auxiliary cables. Amazon plans to launch the device in markets outside the US in 2020, starting with India.
- In-vehicle Fire TV. BMW and Fiat Chrysler extended their existing partnerships with Amazon to add Fire TV to infotainment systems. This would allow, for instance, backseat passengers to stream movies through onboard LTE connections. It could also improve at-home Fire TV experience, as consumers could start a program at home and continue watching in the car where they had left off.
- Bolstering auto-specific Alexa skills. Amazon announced new auto-specific Alexa skills, such as the ability to pay for gas at Exxon stations through the voice assistant. In March 2019, Amazon launched a suite of developer tools aimed at tailoring skills for the automotive experience. The auto-focused toolkit included improved location awareness and an option to give more succinct responses to drivers.
Automakers need to work with big tech to satisfy consumer demands, but Amazon still faces considerable competition from Google. Nearly 95% of consumers are expected to use voice-based digital assistants such as Alexa in their cars by 2022, according to Capgemini. Further, 62% of consumers prefer having the same digital assistant integrating their vehicle, home, and mobile device experiences.
Big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple are therefore uniquely situated to fill this consumer desire. While automakers ultimately control big tech’s access to this aspect of consumers’ lives, they seem to be taking an agnostic stance on digital assistants, allowing consumers to choose among competitors. Gaining access to consumers is therefore only a starting point, and both Amazon and Google will need to continually add features to their respective offerings to remain competitive.
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