Ford, Toyota form consortium to help build in-car apps

Mike Wayland
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. are forming a nonprofit consortium to focus on developing an industry standard for in-vehicle apps.

The SmartDeviceLink Consortium, announced Wednesday, , will work to manage an open source software platform with the goal of “giving consumers more choice in how they connect and control their smartphone apps on the road,” officials said in a statement.

Open source means companies provide source, or base, code of a program to the public to allow them to use and modify the code from its original design. It’s commonly used in the tech world to inspire innovation and new ideas for software.

Mazda Motor Corp., PSA Group, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (FHI) and Suzuki Motor Corp. are the first automaker members of the consortium. Elektrobit, Luxoft, and Xevo join as the first supplier members. Harman and QNX have signed letters of intent to join.

The name of the consortium comes from SmartDeviceLink, an open source program Ford originally launched in 2013 as AppLink. It enables smartphone app developers to integrate their app functions with in-vehicle technology such as the vehicle display screen, steering wheel controls and voice recognition.

The Dearborn-based automaker says adopting the open source platform gives companies a “uniform standard” with which to integrate apps. Developers benefit because they can focus on creating the best experience for customers by integrating one linking solution for use by all participating automakers.

“Encouraging innovation is at the center of Ford’s decision to create SmartDeviceLink, and this consortium is a major step toward that goal,” said Doug VanDagens, global director of Ford Connected Vehicle and Services, and a board member of the consortium, in a statement. “Consumers will win with new, innovative app experiences from increased collaboration and developer engagement.”

Consumers, according to officials, also benefit because developers and automakers working together will contribute improvements to the open source code — increasing the quality and security of the software.

Toyota has resisted offering Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto in its vehicles, citing concern that doing so would diminish safety and security. Ford offers them on all its 2017 model vehicles. But the No. 2 U.S. automaker still wants an open-source software platform that all app developers can use as an alternative to those of Google and Apple.

Toyota first agreed to collaborate with Ford on car telematics systems in 2011. The automakers worry that if CarPlay and Android Auto establish themselves as must-have options, the influence of Apple and Google over the industry will grow.

Ford’s version of the SmartDeviceLink technology is already available on 5 million vehicles globally, and provides drivers with popular apps like Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and AccuWeather.

“We are excited to collaborate with many auto manufacturers who share our view,’’ said Shigeki Tomoyama, president of Toyota’s Connected Company.

Bloomberg News contributed.