Italy's Magneti Marelli wants to become a major supplier of navigation and telematics modules with its NIT, nodo info telematico, or information and telematics module.
The first generation of the NIT, the NIT Mk 1, is a single module roughly twice the size of a car radio. It incorporates the hardware and a 5-inch active matrix color display in a single piece.
Functions include a radio data system, compact disc player, trip computer, dual band hands-free phone, satellite navigator and voice-recognition system.
The voice-recognition system recognizes six languages: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Dutch. But its functions are limited to recognizing voice commands to make a phone call, including the dictation of a phone number. In addition, the NIT Mk 1 works as an audio memo box for short voice messages.
The first generation of NIT will be available in March on the Alfa Romeo 147, where it is called Connect Nav+ in its most comprehensive version. The price ranges from $1,335 to $1,465, depending on the model.
The same system will be offered in the spring on the Fiat Dobl.
This year Magneti Marelli has concentrated on its two development partners: Fiat Auto S.p.A. and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA. In 2001, it will try to win contracts from other European carmakers.
The second-generation module, NIT Mk 2, will be radically different. Its hardware is in a single unit about the same size as a radio. The display, a 7.2-inch active matrix, is inserted in the instrument panel.
The processor is much faster, and the more sophisticated voice-recognition control allows voice commands to the audio system. It also offers Internet access, including a text-to-speech function by which received e-mail messages are read by a digitized voice.
Starting in the second half of 2001, the NIT Mk 2 could be equipped with General Packet Radio Service, the next generation of Global System for Mobile Communications phones with a much faster data speed.
The faster data transfer rate could permit the use of up-to-date maps downloaded in real time rather than digitized road maps stored on a compact disc. But Magneti Marelli says until GPRS is adopted as a standard with broad territory coverage for all of Europe - possibly in 2006 or 2007 - real-time map access probably won't be practical.
The NIT Mk 2 will debut in April 2001 on the successor to the Peugeot 306.
It also will be offered on the Maserati 3200 GT, the Fiat 192 project and on the Ducato range of Fiat commercial vehicles. And it will be available on the new generation of Citroen-Fiat-Lancia-Peugeot minivans that will debut next year.
The NIT MK 2 will include a video connection to plug in Digital Versatile Disc players, video game consoles and video cameras. A camera will be offered on the Fiat Ducato commercial vehicle to allow a complete view of what is behind the vehicle during reverse maneuvers.c
E-mail capability is expected on NIT's third generation, planned for early 2003. The NIT Mk 3 also will permit a wireless, fast data interchange between the on-board infomobility system and GSM/GPRS phones and laptop computers.
To reduce production costs, the NIT hardware will be much the same among different manufacturers and models. But the man-machine interface will be specific, including both commands - buttons and controls - and display graphics. The man-machine interface is owned by the customer, so Fiat Auto cannot use the same graphics as PSA and vice versa.