Stellantis, Foxconn partnership seeks to create the next-generation cockpit

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Jeep and Ram maker Stellantis NV is partnering with iPhone manufacturing contractor Foxconn Technology Group to create the next-generation cockpit by leveraging both companies' software engineers for a more personalized user experience and infotainment offerings.

The companies on Tuesday detailed their nonbinding memorandum of understanding to create the 50-50 joint venture, Mobile Drive. The new entity will help Stellantis guard its stake in the evolving vehicle dashboard. It combines Stellantis’ vehicle design and engineering prowess with the development expertise in the rapidly changing software and hardware of smartphones and consumer electronics of Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd.

Stellantis NV and Foxconn Technology Group are partnering on a Mobile Drive joint venture to accelerate advancements in in-vehicle user experience and infotainment.

Mobile Drive marks a new business model for Stellantis focused on frequent upgrades to products and further revenue-generating activities with over-the-air updates versus a one-time, large purchase, said Yves Bonnefont, Stellantis' chief software officer. More than 250 engineers already have begun working to accelerate bringing biometric recognition, augmented-reality navigation, artificial intelligence-powered personal assistance, 5G communication and more to Stellantis and other automakers' vehicles.

"This customer experience needs a strong interaction with the user, a strong connectivity and that we need to develop those features at a faster pace, and we need to update and upgrade those features at a high-frequency mode," Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said Tuesday during a web presentation introducing the partnership. "This disruption is a must for Stellantis. This disruption is a must for our long-term strategic direction."

Stellantis NV CEO Carlos Tavares says the work Mobile Drive will do in consumer experience is "core" to Stellantis.

Mobile Drive will operate as a Tier 1 supplier and compete on bids for hardware and software solutions at Stellantis and other automakers. The Netherlands-based firm initially will do most engineering and development in Taipei, Taiwan, where Foxconn is based. It also will set up a management office in Europe.

The partnership is a signal "the vehicle of the future will be increasingly mobile-driven and mobile-designed," Foxconn chairman Young Liu said.

Foxconn chairman Young Liu says the Mobile Drive joint venture with Stellantis NV signals the mobile-driven future of the automotive industry.

The companies did not provide a timeline for when customers will begin to benefit from the collaboration. A project on which to start the work, however, has been identified, and work on that is beginning, Bonnefont said. He emphasized while other automakers such as Tesla Inc., Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co. are focused on keeping much of the software development in-house, a partnership with Foxconn is advantageous for Stellantis.

"We want to move fast, and we want to get the best knowledge of tech companies incorporated in what we do," Bonnefont said.

Yves Bonnefont, Stellantis NV's chief software officer, says the Mobile Drive joint venture with Foxconn represents a new business model in which vehicles are frequently updated.

The vehicle dashboard is the next frontier for tech companies like Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC and Cerence Inc., said Daniel Ives, analyst at investment firm Wedbush Inc. Stellantis' venture with Foxconn ties the transatlantic automaker with a reputable tech partner for capacity and distribution, but it also lays a claim for that real estate into the future.

"In-car software is becoming more and more important in this arms race we’re seeing play out in the automotive industry," Ives said. "Stellantis is protecting its turf in the dashboard with a gold-standard partner."

Mobile Drive will seek to create an intuitive and connected interface across multiple screens in vehicles designed with each brand in mind. The native system will combine voice controls and windshield-projected Heads Up navigation and information displays for the driver while also providing entertainment and games for passengers. Android Auto and Apple Car Play still will be available.

"Our smart cockpit solution will help occupants to seamlessly migrate from the mobile phone-centric lifestyle and the auto lifestyle," said Calvin Chih, CEO of Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile Ltd.

Calvin Chih, CEO at Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile Ltd., says Mobile Drive will seek to create a seamless integration of customers' smartphones and their vehicles.

That technology is becoming an increasing desire among vehicle buyers, who also appear to be willing to pay more for those features, unlike electric vehicles, said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for auto information website Inc.

"Customers are opting for stuff rather than different powertrains in this day and age," Caldwell said. She added that as vehicles become more automated, "people will want to be productive in their vehicles, and that has to develop at the same pace. Otherwise, what's the point?"

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV previously collaborated with Foxconn prior to its January merger with French automaker Groupe PSA on the Airflow Vision, a concept vehicle based on its Chrysler Pacifica minivan shown at the CES consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas in 2020. Discussions between FCA and Foxconn on manufacturing electric vehicles for China were put on hold last year because of the pending Stellantis merger.

The Airflow Vision concept is a sleek vehicle based on the plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivan focused on user experience that offers multiple and customizable display screens that also can share information.

Stellantis has 12 million Internet-connect vehicles on the road capable of leveraging over-the-air updates.

"We believe this is a tremendous asset," Bonnefont said, "a tremendous asset to better understand how our customers are using our product, what are the features they want more of, what are the feature that they maybe don't use so often, and improve the way we design and think in a continuous manner about our product."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble