Connected car fanatics are eagerly awaiting Amazon’s annual fall hardware event on Tuesday (Sept. 28), in hopes that whatever cards the platform giant is holding close to its vest include meaningful enhancements to the in-dash experiences that Alexa enables for drivers.
Famously tight-lipped about the annual event, Amazon announced the date last week, instantly triggering mass conjecture in the media on a redesigned Amazon Echo, tweaks to the Amazon Echo Dot, the Amazon Luna gaming platform and more.
Alexa made automotive headlines on Sept. 22 with news that General Motors (GM) and Amazon are introducing the OnStar Guardian skill for Amazon in-home smart devices, “giving users a voice-enabled connection to emergency-certified OnStar Advisors through Alexa-enabled technology at home.” But the real action for gearheads is happening on the road.
In May, Amazon’s partnership with Ford Motors took a sharp turn into embedded voice country, issuing the first-ever software update to some six million Ford vehicles already on the road and outfitted with embedded Alexa skills.
Per a statement issued by the automaker: “Ford is prepping what’s planned to be the industry’s broadest rollout of the embedded Alexa hands-free experience to date, with complimentary connectivity to Alexa for up to three years. This year alone, the same type of Alexa voice command functionality many people have in their homes will be wired to 700,000 Ford vehicles in the U.S. and Canada, followed by millions more over the next few years.”
Starting in March, drivers of Ford F-150 trucks and Mustang Mach-E models equipped with Power-Up software began receiving automatic network updates of Alexa skills, “turning connected vehicle learnings into continuous quality improvements, new features and capabilities,” per the statement. Ford plans to build 33 million Power-Up autos by 2028.
“Alexa, Pay for Gas” Goes Next-Level
It was a year ago in September that Amazon unveiled its “Alexa, pay for gas” skill in partnership with Amazon Pay, Alexa, ExxonMobil and Fiserv. That gave a taste of the possibility of turning cars into rolling mobile digital wallets, bettering older Bluetooth-enabled versions.
As Motor Trend reported in May, “Alexa, pay for gas” is becoming “Alexa, start my Ford and crank the air conditioning,” as the voice command AI begins to fulfill more of its true purpose as a connected economy operating system, and not just another piece of voice assistant gear.
As PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster recently wrote, “Unlike the Windows, iOS and Android operating systems, Alexa wasn’t created to drive sales of a new category of connected device called a speaker, even though that was the device that marked its debut. The intent was for Alexa to become the operating system for the connected economy, embedding its voice-activated operating system into the growing number of devices that were or could be connected to the internet.”
To that end, Amazon announced its Alexa Custom Assistant service in January 2021, making it easier for automakers to integrate Alexa. “The real way that you’re going to want to interact with a voice assistant in your car is to have it built-in,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s top hardware exec, as reported by CNBC. It also marked the first time Amazon gave third parties access to its core artificial intelligence (AI) to create these kinds of integrations.
Buick’s Alexa Embrace Just the Beginning
Amazon’s ambitions to be embedded in vehicles is a clear next-gen opportunity for all manner of purchases and payments that people might think of as they commute and cruise.
Buick took it to another level in August via the introduction of its Encore GX models with Alexa Built-In. The clever video campaign posed the question: “Is it a Buick? Or is it an Alexa?”
On the Buick website, the GM-owned brand says, “Alexa functionality is fully integrated into your properly equipped Buick infotainment system. With Alexa Built-In, use voice commands to connect to your favorite music service, get directions, make calls, check your calendar or to-do lists, add items to your Whole Foods shopping cart and more.”
New developments expected for Amazon’s Sept. 28 hardware event include “the second generation of Amazon’s Echo Auto, technology code-named Marion,” as PYMNTS reported.