Innovation

Car Commerce Tracker: Integration, Investment

Another busy week in car commerce. This time around, an Alexa integration, a new partnership leveraging telematic capabilities and a major manufacturing investment by BMW are all working to connect and evolve the automotive space.

A number of vehicle manufacturers, like Hyundai, Ford and Volkswagen, as well as various third-party developers, are working to incorporate Alexa into cars in various ways. But for those who aren’t looking to wait (or buy a new car), device developer Logitech’s ZeroTouch smartcar mounts recently announced an integration with Amazon’s AI assistant.

The ZeroTouch hardware and accompanying mobile app works with Android smartphones, allowing drivers to make calls, text and access apps hands-free. Drivers using ZeroTouch will have access to the AI assistant’s well over 7,000 skills, including the capacity to make purchases.

The Alexa integration is also a clever way to make Logitech’s offering stand out in the growing in-car interface space, which includes major players like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. While these two offerings also allow voice-activated control of navigation, music and communication capabilities, the integration by Logitech leverages Alexa’s current notoriety.

The sheer number of Alexa skills (even if many of them aren’t exactly relevant for use in-vehicle), as well as its mainstream status, could give Logitech a leg-up in the fast-growing in-vehicle tech space. And the fact that at $59.99 and $79.99 for the air vent or dashboard devices, respectively, Logitech’s hardware and accompanying mobile app cost significantly less than a new car or even a third-party smart dashboard could also work to increase consumer interest.

But growing interest in the connected car space isn’t just limited to tech companies or device and vehicle manufacturers. Insurance agencies are looking to leverage technology to improve driver safety (and save policyholders some cash).

Last week, telematics solutions provider Automatic and American Family Insurance (AmFam) announced a partnership to develop connected car technology to both increase driver safety and reduce insurance costs. Automatic will provide its onboard diagnostics (OBD-II) adapters and mobile apps to new AmFam policyholders who enroll in the company’s KnowYourDrive program, which reportedly starts in Arizona and Indiana this month and will roll out across the U.S. throughout the year.

The OBD-II adapter collects driving data, which policyholders can access via mobile app. The goal is that having access to this data will clue drivers in on how to improve their vehicle safety — that and good driving data can earn policyholders up to a 40 percent discount on their plan.

“KnowYourDrive, with the Automatic technology, aims to transform the experience of car ownership and insurance for American Family Insurance policyholders. It gives them a connected car tool to track and improve their driving, while also opening up the opportunity to earn a discount on their insurance policy,” said Felipe Teixeira, American Family Insurance national product manager.

The two companies are also working jointly to develop new integrations, such as roadside assistance and claims submission, within Automatic’s app.

On the manufacturing end, news of a recent investment by BMW iVentures, the venture capital arm of BMW Group, fits well into the vehicle manufacturer’s recent push to evolve aspects of the automotive industry.

BMW iVentures recently invested in Burlington-based Desktop Metal, a startup working to incorporate metal 3D printing into manufacturing. Advances in metal 3D printing could soon allow vehicle manufacturers to make complex prototypes and to mass-produce and customize car parts faster and more efficiently.

Uwe Higgen, BMW iVentures managing partner, said in a statement: “Advances in metal 3D printing are driving innovation across a wide range of automotive applications … From rapid prototyping and printing exceptional quality parts for end-use production to freedom of design and mass customization, Desktop Metal is shaping the way cars will be imaged, designed and manufactured.”

BMW iVentures added to Desktop Metal’s Series C, which, along with investments from Alphabet and Lowe’s, brought the round to $45 million. All told, the company has raised a total of $97 million.

In November of last year, BMW iVentures announced it was creating a new fund worth up to $530 million that would be used over the next 10 years to invest in startups shaping the future of transportation, said Forbes. The investment arm’s current portfolio includes Life360, JustPark and ChargePoint, among others.

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