Ford and Toyota Just Became Allies in an Unusual Agreement

January 4, 2017, 8:56 AM UTC
Ford SYNC 3
With SYNC 3, AppLink now automatically discovers smartphone apps including Spotify, Pandora and Glympse, and displays their unique graphics and branding.
Steve Petrovich

Automakers are scrambling to offer connectivity to their increasingly tech-savvy consumer base and offer seamless integration between cars and smartphones. But not all are keen to connect with systems developed by Apple or Google.

Ford Motor (F) and Toyota Motor (TM) have formed a consortium to accelerate the deployment of open source software aimed at giving consumers more options in how they connect and control their smartphone apps.

The organization is called the SmartDeviceLink (SDL) Consortium, a reference to an open source software version of Ford’s AppLink.

Mazda Motor (MZDAY), PSA Group, Fuji Heavy Industries (FUJHY), and Suzuki Motor (SZKMY), are the first automaker members of the consortium. Suppliers Elektrobit (EBTTF), Harman (HAR), Luxoft (LXFT), QNX, and Xevo have also joined the nonprofit organization.

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The formation of the consortium follows Toyota’s announcement last January that it planned to use the SDL software in its cars to give drivers command and control of smartphone apps through dashboard buttons, display screens, and voice recognition tech. Toyota plans to commercialize an infotainment system using SDL around 2018.

The unusual agreement between the typically competitive companies showed the wariness of some automakers to hand over control to third-party companies—namely Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two connectivity systems that allow a smartphone to take over a car’s center screen. Once users plug their smartphones into the car’s USB ports, the phones’ maps and navigation, music, and selected apps are integrated onto the central screen.

Ford and Toyota argue that an open source code is a better approach, because developers and automakers working together can increase the quality and security of the software. If the industry adopts the software, developers would gain access to millions of vehicles and their drivers worldwide, while participating companies would still be able to retain control over the level of access outside parties have to vehicle data, the companies said.

Ford has not abandoned Apple’s and Google’s offerings, however. The company has taken an all-of-the-above approach to connectivity in the car. It’s keeping Sync, the in-car communications and entertainment system that lets you use your voice to make a call, listen to music, and select apps with its AppLink technology.

At the same time, Ford is also adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to new models.