Dutch firm TomTom is known globally for creating the PND (Portable Navigation Device) category, now a pillar of the CE landscape. The company’s entry into the Automotive Industry followed a 2007 acquisition of a team of 90+ engineers from Siemens VDO, followed by Tele Atlas which had supplied maps to the automotive industry for years.
Although a relatively recent player in this field, TomTom already boasts some renowned clients including Renault, Mazda, the Fiat group, but also BMW North America. Since 2009, it has sold more than 2.5 million in-dash navigation systems. In recent years, TomTom has developed a new field of expertise in real time traffic information, which has also sparked a lot of interest with Car Manufacturers. At this year’s Geneva Motor Show, TomTom announced it would in future be delivering its traffic information service to Daimler and to Toyota Motors Europe. In addition to providing traffic information, TomTom Automotive delivers pre-integrated, connected navigation systems, as was the case with Fiat and the new Uconnect infotainment system shown at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Jan-Maarten de Vries, Vice President Product Management & Marketing Automotive, TomTom what challenges and opportunities he sees for TomTom as an Automotive supplier in today’s market place.
De Vries: The features lists traditional suppliers need to cover are basically endless. User expectations are driven by the CE industry and more precisely by their Smartphone experience. There is a fundamental issue in the speed of innovation vs. the speed of the automotive industry – the conclusion is that car manufacturers cannot continue to apply the same recipes if they want to stay competitive. We believe there is thus a need for a modular approach where each component of the navigation system (maps, navigation software, real-time services) can be proposed off the shelf in a standard way. In terms of opportunities, OEMs recognize the growing importance of the end-user experience in relation to with the car’s infotainment system, and that it is becoming an important purchase factor along with the more traditional reasons to choose a car (comfort, fuel efficiency, exterior design). Navigation is playing and will continue to play a fundamental role in driving the usage of that screen. Ultimately, infotainment systems will sell cars – or not.
AI: What makes TomTom successful?
De Vries: TomTom Automotive is unique in the sense that we are able to deliver all the components of a Connected Navigation System (CNS) on par with the very latest Consumer Electronics in terms of features all under one roof. We were able to isolate these components by de-constructing a PND to create a set of standardized modular assets that we supply to the automotive industry (OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers) in stand-alone or pre-integrated configurations.
AI: Can you tell us more about these components?
De Vries: Firstly, it starts with a good, navigable map. TomTom is one of the few global digital map making companies. Coverage, freshness, accuracy, feature set are critical attributes for car manufacturers. We add to this the strength of our large community of TomTom users (20+ millions devices on the road globally!), which provides active and passive feedback to us and ultimately helps us keep map data fresh and accurate. Secondly, our navigation software. We have developed a brand new generation of TomTom navigation software which will first be installed in new PND GO series, which were announced in April. This innovative software stack will ultimately be used by all divisions of the company (Automotive, Mobile, PND). Routing is usually a compromise between speed of calculation and accuracy, but with our new software, we have found a way to make route calculation both the fastest and most accurate according to our internal tests. We confidently wait for test results from journalists and end-users. Besides the routing engine we have also made this navigation software more flexible. It can run on any operating system (QNX, Android, iOS, Genivi etc) and also on almost any hardware configuration, thus making it even easier for car manufacturers to adapt it to their architecture. Finally, we have de-coupled the routing logic from the UI layer – meaning that we can skin, or even totally re-create the navigation UI without modifying the routing algorithms. This offers great opportunities for branding and differentiation. Thirdly, connected services: there we need to make a distinction between the services produced by TomTom such as Traffic which was recently adopted by Daimler and Toyota, or our Speed Cam and Local Search services; and services that we can aggregate from third-party – such as weather or fuel prices. Each component in itself follows industry standards, but the real advantage of working with TomTom is that each component improves the others: our Traffic information enables us to detect maps changes, or even new roads being built, because it relies on a number of probes. The huge database of speed profiles we have collected over the years allow us to know the average speed being driven on any road segment at any time of the day is also a key component in TomTom’s ability to deliver the industry’s most precise ETA.
AI: Besides “a-la-carte” shopping, what do these components bring to car manufacturers, and to end-users?
De Vries: We think we can improve all sides of the traditional project management triangle: we reduce integration costs for the OEM, since our components are fit-for-use and can be pre-integrated by us. The correlation is a shorter time to market, since integration takes both money and time. Finally, we are able to deliver Smartphone-like functionalities that will fulfill the end-user’s expectations, while adhering to the very stringent automotive quality requirements: we are unique in that we leverage our large user base to pre-validate our products and services with real people who drive in real-life conditions and report real issues to us. Our products are market tested, which gives us great confidence in what we propose to the industry.
AI: Where do you see the navigation business going in the future?
De Vries: At the start of TomTom’s success story, it was all about bringing people from A to B, when you don’t know where B is. The early success of TomTom was based on our capacity to bring a very innovative technology to the masses. We made this technology so intuitive and easy to use that our PND devices ship without a user manual in the box! In today’s world, this guiding need still exists but its relative importance is decreasing: many users drive to commute, and thus already know the way to work and the possible alternatives. Increasingly, what customers are asking for is daily relevance – it is the capacity for the system to deliver the right information or service exactly when the user needs it, depending on his situation, in a way that will not distract the driver. Another trend is the cross-platform journey. Customers expect a seamless experience, whichever device they are using for their navigation related needs. We are working on some scenarios and products that involve smart routing, of course, but also off board pre-trip planning, traffic avoidance on known commute, real-time rich local search en route, last-mile guidance, companion app etc. One of the first products on our roadmap that will change the way people think about guidance will be our Commuter device, which was presented in April 2013 in Amsterdam and will be available in stores later in 2013. At TomTom we think that connected navigation will become a ubiquitous product, just like anti-locking brakes became the norm many years ago. We work towards delivering the best possible navigation experience to our end-users and we are confident we are on the right path to do so.