WASHINGTON -- In order to develop cars that communicate with one another to avert crashes, automakers have had to do something they don't do very often: communicate with one another.
The quest for connected cars that would speak a common language across a Wi-fi-like network has brought an unprecedented level of collaboration among automakers, each one spurred by the same simple imperative: Without universal participation and shared standards, such connectivity won't be of much use.
The outcome of that cooperation could soon become clear. By year end, U.S. regulators are expected to decide whether connecting cars -- through a wireless communications channel called Dedicated Short-Range Communication -- is worth the cost. If that test is met, putting these cars on the road would take a few more years as regulators and the industry refine the standards and figure out how to protect the automotive network against hacking and privacy breaches.
But the very existence of the dialogue shows a new approach by automakers, which have invested heavily in proprietary wireless services such as General Motors' OnStar or Mercedes-Benz's mbrace and guarded them as a competitive advantage. Both companies, along with Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen, are part of the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership, which is working with the U.S. government on how best to deploy DSRC technology throughout the nation's vehicle fleet.
Linking cars of all brands is the only way for the technology to live up to its potential, says Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose 12 members include GM, Mercedes and Ford.
It is a lesson that Bainwol, the industry's top lobbyist in Washington, says he learned in the early 2000s as head of the music industry's main lobbying group, the Recording Industry Association of America. Back then, a proliferation of digital music formats and distribution channels frustrated owners of portable devices such as the iPod, sparking confrontations between hardware and software companies.