Electronic Design

Culture Clash Might Delay iCar

The dialog between Apple and Volkswagen about the "iCar" — the vehicle that will incorporate a range of Apple digital media products like the iPod — will remain just that for at least three to four years, according to iSuppli Corp. While there appears to be strong consumer desire for an iCar, the potential collaboration between the two companies faces some daunting challenges. Their vastly different cultures is a major one, iSuppli says. "Although the old cliché says 'opposites attract,' the cultural divide between Apple and Volkswagen may be too wide to bridge," Richard Robinson, principal analyst of automotive electronics for iSuppli, said in a statement. While Apple is a witty, innovative and dynamic company that profits from constantly inventing the next-big-thing, Robinson said, VW comes from a much more conservative world. "VW's ... solid four-to five-year development cycles, tight margins and production-standard compliance requirements ... would bring even the most enthusiastic designer from Cupertino to his knees," Robinson said. Automakers generally have a cautious approach to design and development due to thousands of product recalls, making them more focused on producing solid, tried and tested products that will be reliable for years. Consumer electronics, on the other hand, tend to break down more frequently. "If your iPod fails, it's your problem, and you must shell out a meager $120 to buy a new one — which is okay because you probably wanted to get the latest model anyway," Robinson said. "However, if your two-year-old car's built-in infotainment system fails while driving in 20-below temperatures on an Alaskan highway, it's not your problem — it's a problem for the company that sold you the car and it must bankroll the repairs. Automakers must bear this responsibility throughout a car's entire warranty period, which typically lasts three to five years." The idea of having to support products for up to 10 years might shock the consumer electronics maker, leading to the undoing of the idea, Robinson said. "While Volkswagen would expect a car manufactured in 2007 to be perfectly serviceable 10 year later, does anyone seriously think the current iPod and iPhone ranges will be anything more than museum relics a decade from now?" If Apple and Volkswagen do team on an iCar, the product probably won't be available for years to come. Robinson forecasts the first models to be available by 2010 or 2011 at the earliest.

TAGS: Automotive
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