DETROIT -- The auto industry needs a better dialogue with the federal government to avoid a potential regulatory backlash that could stymie car connectivity technologies, the head of General Motors Co.’s OnStar subsidiary said today.
“If we do this wrong, we are going to have the law of unintended consequences where government regulators are going in a direction that is solving the wrong problem,” Chris Preuss, OnStar president, said during a panel discussion about connected car technology at the 2011 Automotive News World Congress.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made preventing distracted driving a priority of his leadership. LaHood’s focus on the issue and warnings against distracted driving from sources as diverse as Congress and Consumer Reports magazine have the industry worried about regulations that will keep new revenue-generating and buyer-enticing technology out of vehicles.
“This is the biggest social imperative the industry is going to deal with since CAFE, and if we don’t get our collective act together, this is going to be a bad outcome for us, drivers and all involved,” Preuss said.
Executives from suppliers Johnson Controls Inc. and Continental AG acknowledge that distracted driving is an issue and that a look at how much technology is too much may be needed.
Jeffrey DeBest, group vice president of Johnson Controls’ automotive electronics business, said finding the right mix of technologies that compete for driver attention is one of the biggest challenges of connected vehicle technology.
“It’s challenging enough driving,” DeBest said. “The cognitive load needs to be assessed and comprehended as we put more features and technology into vehicles.”
Helmut Matschi, president of the interiors division of Continental, said the key is developing “responsible” human-machine interfaces. Those would regulate what applications and vehicle functions could be used when the vehicle is in motion, he said.
“Driving and Googling conflict, so we had better take care of how we do those things so we can take them responsibly forward,” Matschi said.
Automakers and suppliers are eager to press ahead with new technologies. Kalman Gyimesi, automotive practice leader at the IBM Institute for Business Value, said connected vehicle technologies represent new battlegrounds for additional revenue for automakers and suppliers.