Sony, Honda Seeks to Merge Cars, Connected Services

A name from home electronics will soon be deeply involved in making electric cars too — along with the in-car digital innovations that are familiar a part of all vehicles on the road.

When Sony and Honda announced March 4 that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture to develop electric vehicles with mobility services, they provided another example of the evolution of vehicles into software-based platforms.

In this potential alliance with Honda, Sony intends to “build on our vision to ‘make the mobility space an emotional one,’ and contribute to the evolution of mobility centered around safety, entertainment and adaptability,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said in a press release.

Developing a New Generation of Mobility and Services

Through a joint venture dubbed New Company, the two companies plan to jointly develop and sell electric vehicles and provide mobility services. They plan to establish the New Company before the end of 2022 and then sell their first electric vehicle in 2025.

They aim to “realize a new generation of mobility and services that are closely aligned with users and the environment,” the companies said in the press release.

The companies noted that Honda would contribute its capabilities in mobility development, vehicle body manufacturing and after-sales service, while Sony would bring its expertise in imaging, sensing, telecommunication, network and entertainment.

“The New Company will aim to stand at the forefront of innovation, evolution and expansion of mobility around the world, by taking a broad and ambitious approach to creating value that exceeds the expectations and imaginations of customers,” Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe said in the press release.

Joining a Trend Toward Software-Based Cars

A prototype vehicle displayed by Sony at the CES trade show in January offers a glimpse of the company’s plans for future mobility. The SUV features imaging and sensing technology inside and outside the vehicle to analyze the surrounding environment and alert the driver to such things as an approaching emergency vehicle.

Inside, sensors enable drivers and passengers to use gesture and voice commands to communicate with the car’s interface. Drivers can also customize the sounds of acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle — which would otherwise be silent because it’s electric. The vehicle will be linked to the cloud so that vehicle settings, key locks and user settings can be synchronized.

Since this is Sony, the prototype vehicle also features seat speakers and a streaming service compatible with 360 Reality Audio, making it sound as if passengers are at a live performance; a digital video service that allows shared or separate playing of movies on the front and rear screens, and a system that passengers to play games through a remote connection to a console or enables through the cloud.

With this move, Sony and Honda join a trend in which manufacturers are making their vehicles more software-based and connected in order to drive recurring revenue through subscription-based connected services and extend the relationship with the customer by delivering over-the-air software updates throughout the life of the vehicle.

Similar moves have been made by companies as diverse as big rig manufacturer PACCAR, tractor builder Deere & Co. and powersports vehicle maker Polaris. The announcement came just days after Ford announced that it was forming a new business unit devoted to electric, connected vehicles.

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