Renault infotainment takes a cue from Apple's App Store

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in FranceBruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France
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Renault is betting that following Apple's iPhone and App Store business model is the best way to entice customers to buy its R-Link infotainment system.

The company will introduce R-Link in the Clio subcompact, Zoe EV and Fluence large sedan this year. Renault will do this by offering applications that users can download onto its proprietary R-Link tablet computer.

The automaker will require customers to pay for the in-car computer as well as for the apps to run in their car. And that is a big risk for Renault. The system must be extraordinarily useful and simple to operate in order for customers to be willing to pay for it.

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The R-Link tablet – which will retail for less than 1,000 euros – will come loaded with navigation, communications, entertainment, travel services and other applications. The driver can access the apps with voice commands and use the system to send and receive e-mails, tweets and phone texts.

Users also eventually will be able to purchase more than 50 apps available for download to their car from the R-Link Store. Renault's approach contrasts with other carmakers, which seek ways to allow customers to run some of their smartphone applications on their car's infotainment systems. Renault's rivals say customers won't pay hundred of euros for a system that remains locked in the car.

Renault's challenge will be to convince developers that they can tap into a market approaching a million units if R-Link is widely adopted in the Clio, Zoe and Fluence. Renault says developers can easily convert Android smartphone applications to the R-Link platform since R-Link runs on an Android platform.

If R-Link turns out to be clunky and full of bugs, it will almost certainly be a monumental flop. But if Renault gets it right, its mainstream competitors likely will consider an Apple store-like business model when they develop their own infotainment systems.

You can reach Bruce Gain at bgain@crain.com.

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