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(Japanese Site)

  • 'Connected' Car Becomes a Reality
  • April 27, 1998 (TOKYO) -- Automobile computerization is entering a new stage in Japan, with efforts focusing on the "connected" car, a vehicle networked remotely in real time to an information provider.
    The connected car will enable drivers to select from huge volumes of information that surround the car (See chart.). Drivers can get immediate information on traffic jams and restaurants within two kilometers from their current location.

    The car makers will be able to increase the product value of their cars by offering information services to customers. Car navigation system makers will be able to expand their market by enhancing product performance.

    Car and Car Navigation System Makers Provide Contents

    The Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS) service, by which the VICS Center sends road traffic information to a car navigation system, is the first trend toward realizing the connected car in Japan.

    The service was inaugurated in 1996, and was available in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and six prefectures as of the end of March 1998.

    The VICS service offers unidirectional online information, but it is the first step toward bidirectionally connected cars because it offers road traffic information whenever desired.

    Car and car navigation system makers have begun to offer extended VICS service. This provides drivers with news, weather, parking lot, restaurant and other information on a real-time basis.

    The players leading the service are car makers including Daimler-Benz Japan Co., Ltd., which quickly established Daimler-Benz InterServices Telematik Japan Co., Ltd. in April 1997 and started Intelligent Traffic Guidance System (ITGS) as an information provision service.

    Toyota Motor Corp. established Toyota Media Station Inc. (TMS) in July 1997, and started a test information provision service named MONET in November of the same year. In April 1998, the test service was switched over to a commercial service.

    Following the two makers, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. established Compass Link in December 1997, and plans to inaugurate the Nissan Car Life Support Service (tentative name) around September 1998. It now is offering a test service.

    Car navigation system and other makers are moving into the information provision service field as well.

    Sony Corp. built Mobile Link, a home page created in November 1997 for a car navigation system on the Internet. It developed it jointly with six companies including IBM Japan Ltd. and Dentsu Inc.

    Using a car navigation system with a Web browser to access the home page enables various kinds of information edited for the car navigation system to be read. Sony released a car navigation system with a Web browser simultaneously when it built the home page.

    Matsushita Communications Industrial Co., Ltd., which plans to release a car navigation system with a Web browser in May 1998, also intends to build a home page. This car navigation system is capable of sending and receiving email.

    Mitsui & Co., Ltd. plans to launch an information wholesale business to gather information in real time about occupation status of parking lots of by-hour rental systems and deliver the information to information providers.

    The company is progressing with a test to gather information of rental parking lot status by using a personal handyphone system (PHS) and low earth orbit communication satellites in cooperation with Park 24 Co., Ltd., which manages the largest parking by-hour rental system. It intends to launch the business by the end of 1998.

    Securing Revenues is Key

    Keys to success in the new market are enhancing contents and securing revenues.

    Users would like free access the contents like the existing Internet service.

    In that case, information providers will have to get revenues from the information source site and not from the users. It is necessary for the information source site to have a system that enables the service to run as a business, eg, in an optimum combination with advertisements.

    Currently, there are two approaches to offering service. One is to provide free information as a home page on the Internet. The other is to use a dedicated format and protocol to provide information as a dedicated service with payment. Both have merits and demerits.

    The former is provided by a service operating group organized by seven companies including Sony and IBM Japan. Users need not make payments except for the communication charge. At present, however, contents for the car navigation system are small in number. The service operating group cannot expect to gain profits in this business yet.

    The latter is employed by an information provider established by car makers including Daimler-Benz and Toyota. It can provide contents to meet with the users' car models and ages. But, the service provider must keep providing useful contents in the future.

    Government Offices Promote ITS

    Government offices plan to help with the infrastructure by looking into the future.

    In July 1996, four ministries and an agency co-drafted promotion of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS). They are the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Ministry of Construction and Metropolitan Police Office.

    ITS is a widened conception, including automatic fee collection and road control, and is not limited to enhancement of the car navigation system. The group aims to put ITS into practical use from 2000 through 2015.

    The government offices concerned and private enterprises have agreed, as the final target, to support the details specified in ITS. But, both parties are using different approaches to realize the plan.

    The government offices will use the VICS service for a wide range of purposes. Car and car navigation system makers are aiming more narrowly at information provision services by further extending the VICS service.

    Chart: Transition of information system for cars
    In the future, real-time area information will be available in a car.

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    (Nikkei Electronics)

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    Updated: Sun Apr 26 18:48:23 1998