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Fiat Chrysler's new infotainment system is 5 times faster, answers to 'Alexa'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Fiat Chrysler’s next-generation infotainment system will be up to five times faster and offer personalized settings and Inc.'s Alexa personal assistant.

The upgrades with the fifth-generation Uconnect touchscreen system that were announced Monday come as vehicle sales slowly retreat from a 2016 peak and in-vehicle technology is a growing must for consumers.

"The interior is what sells the car at the end of the day," said Jessica Caldwell, an auto analyst at auto information website Inc. "A lot of people come in because they like how the car looks, but then they get in and imagine their life in that car, and it closes the deal. Infotainment is probably a big part of that. The owner will likely be interacting with that every day."

The fifth-generation Uconnect infotainment system features a customizable home screen.

The redesigned touchscreens powered by the Android Auto operating system will begin appearing on vehicles later this year. The new chip can process up to 50 billion  instructions per second and holds up to 6 gigabytes of RAM. Three available screen orientations will help the system to be incorporated across Fiat Chrysler's whole portfolio.

"The system you're going to experience in the next few months is more device-like than it is automotive," said Ralph Gilles, Fiat Chrysler's head of design. "We're talking (million instructions per second) speeds that are as fast as your iPhone and faster in some cases."

In addition to a simpler design, Uconnect now has a home screen that like smartphones users will be able to design with up to five screens and a selection of app and widget layouts.

"One of the secrets to our system is we would like for you to get to anywhere you can within two presses," said Vince Galante, chief designer of user experience. "The goal of the home screen is to get you there in one."

Users will be able to save their custom home screens along with radio presets, air and seat temperatures and favorited apps under one of up to six personal profiles, including valet.

"With just the touch of a button, it's my world all over again," said Jin Palmer, head of infotainment and feature planning. "Personalization is not just about personalizing for you, but it's also about how easy it is to personalize and how easy it is to retrieve."

In 2018, 51% of surveyed car buyers said they took in-vehicle technology into consideration when making their purchase, according to data firm Nielsen Holdings Plc's Auto TechCast survey. And 64% said the technology in their vehicles brought them back to the same brand.

"What is interesting about the market right now is how competitive it is," said Karl Brauer, a Kelley Blue Book auto analyst. "Little things mean a lot. Technology is generally becoming more important, particularly for young buyers. They are more willing to shift brands or shift consideration if it's not available."

The next-generation Uconnect comes with Amazon's voice-activated Alexa that can be awakened through the steering wheel. The internet-connected option does require a data plan; a 12-month trial subscription is offered with a vehicle purchase.

The system supports a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and can wirelessly sync and toggle between two mobile devices through the native Android system or Apple CarPlay. The system is capable of operating at 5G, but it is not yet available.

"It will meet the requirements for today's tech-savvy customer in addition to laying the groundwork for future product development of the in-vehicle experience both from an electric as well as an autonomous perspective," said Bryant Mazurek, head of Uconnect brand marketing.

In addition to current over-the-air software updates, Uconnect 5's "plus" option also will have over-the-air map updates for a new navigation system from TomTom NV. SiriusXM 360L, which already is available on the Ram trucks, will allow users to create their own profile to stream music and receive content recommendations with a subscription.

Carrying over from the previous generation also is over-the-air software updates, the Uconnect Market e-commerce platform and family drive alerts that allow parents to set parameters for young drivers. The previous generation launched in 2017.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble