BOSTON - Today, about 10,000 vehicles have onboard navigation and information units. By 2000, that number should soar to 1 million.
The forecast comes from Ron Knockeart of Siemens Automotive Corp. As vice president of Siemens' ITS North America unit, he has a vested interest in the market's growth. But he bases his numbers on a solid source: automakers' production plans.
Half of those 1 million units will be sold in 2000, Knockeart added. By 2005, one-third of all new vehicles sold will carry some traveler information system.
Siemens figures to win a sizable chunk of that market with a new, low-cost navigation system that combines the three most-wanted services: route guidance, real-time traffic information and roadside assistance - in one package.
BRINGING DOWN THE PRICE
But the key element in Siemens' strategy is price. Today, in-vehicle navigation systems cost from $895 to more than $2,000. Siemens says its new unit, developed under the code-name QuickScout, will sell for about $750. Owners would also have to pay a monthly service fee for access to the information servers.
The lower unit price is possible because Siemens has moved the navigation database off the vehicle and onto a centralized computer server, reducing system cost and complexity. When the driver wants navigation or traffic information, the request goes out over the car's cellular phone to the server, which transmits the most current information back. However, each information request incurs cell-phone charges.
QuickScout also will give Siemens a full portfolio of vehicle-navigation systems. The supplier, which ranked No. 66 on the Automotive News list of top 150 original equipment suppliers to North America, currently makes the vehicle navigation unit sold as GuideStar by Oldsmobile and as TetraStar in the aftermarket.
Siemens also makes a unit that integrates navigation, radio, and heating and ventilation controls in one control head. That unit is scheduled to be offered by Porsche in the Boxster and the forthcoming replacement for the 911. It also will be used by Mercedes-Benz in the M-class sport-utility that goes on sale this fall.
Siemens has invested between $12 million and $15 million in developing intelligent transportation systems for the U.S. market, Knockeart said.
Siemens expects to begin selling the QuickScout unit as a dealer-installed item in late 1998. The company looks for OEM installations to begin in the 2001 model year, said Knockeart.
QuickScout has just completed six weeks of field testing in Boston, and another six-week cycle begins this week.
Three basic systems make up QuickScout:
1. The display unit, sized to fit in the standard space occupied by a radio or in-dash compact disc player.
2. A cellular telephone.
3. A global positioning system antenna and receiver to pinpoint the vehicle's location.
Obtaining real-time traffic information is a bit complicated.
In the Boston test, the major roads and freeways have been broken down into segments - 84 in all. For the real-time traffic information function, QuickScout requires the driver to string together up to four segments along a route. The cellular phone then dials the service provider, which transmits back road conditions for the segments.
Most trips require more than four segments, Siemens admits. But drivers would not need to know traffic on every segment for their daily commute, said Harry Asher, system engineer for Siemens' Intelligent Transportation Systems.
Achieving the low price-point for QuickScout does require compromises.
The system cannot automatically give traffic conditions for a planned route. The driver must review the planned route, then switch and request traffic information for segments along the route, a time-consuming process.