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Japan-based Clarion Group, a leader in car audio and automotive navigation and multimedia systems, has successfully transformed itself from an in-vehicle entertainment device manufacturer to an in-vehicle information solution provider. 
The impetus for the shift was the launch of Clarion’s Smart Access – a cloud-based information access, analysis and sharing platform. Clarion maintains that the adaptable architecture of Smart Access is virtually future-proof and the mix of real-time services and support sets the benchmark for all other cloud-based systems in the world. The system uses an always-on network to ensure continuous connectivity and access. 
Smart Access is also designed to provide Clarion’s OEM customers a one-stop, all inclusive system to handle VRM (Vehicle Relationship Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) requirements. This will allow OEMs to provide real-time vehicle and customer support in the near future. In addition, Smart Access’ flexible Policy Control protocols allow OEMs to easily access set-up and maintain policies for each individual application. 
Clarion’s Smart Access team also manages a growing pool of established App developers and technology partners in the Silicon Valley area, allowing Clarion to provide updates, new features, new apps and other cloud-based services without burdening OEM resources. 
The latest version of Smart Access available in Clarion’s NX604 aftermarket model offers a simple and effective way to access information via Clarion’s Intelligent VOICE technology. Intelligent VOICE allows for naturally spoken sentences to be recognized without the need to remember and use voice commands. For example, with Intelligent VOICE, users can simply say conversational sentences such as “I’m in the mood for waffles” and the system will understand and recommend a selection of restaurants serving waffles. 
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Hidetoshi Kawamoto, President of the Clarion Group, how the shift in strategy from being an In-Vehicle Information Device Manufacturer to an In-Vehicle Information Solution Provider has changed Clarion’s focus and operations. 
Kawamoto: Clarion is committed to developing solutions that support safe and secure driving. Today, our “Intelligent Safety” portfolio features high performance camera solutions that give drivers a clear view of the outside world, including detection of lanes and objects (both static and moving), as well as advanced park assist systems. By incorporating an image recognition solution that sends warnings to the vehicle during driving, we are also helping reduce traffic accidents. But, this is just the beginning for us and the industry. We are working to advance our safety control systems along with Hitachi Automotive Solutions in order to offer not just automatic parking and collision avoidance systems but, ultimately, autonomous driving. Today, as a member of the Hitachi group, there is a great deal of synergy between Clarion and Hitachi’s Information & Telecommunication Systems Company as we work closely to take Clarion’s Smart Access connectivity and cloud-based vehicle information platform to the next level by utilizing not just their technological know-how, but also the ability to provide a host of in-vehicle services. We also work closely with Hitachi Automotive Systems, which has a commanding market share in drive control solutions, as we look into delivering added value by combining vehicle information and Clarion’s invehicle devices in order to provide our customers with an even safer and more secure driving experience. 
AI: What impact has this shift in focus had on Clarion’s corporate strategy and global direction?
Kawamoto: As far as corporate strategy is concerned, Clarion has adapted quickly to change, seizing the ever-changing nature of the environment to identify opportunities and take advantage of them. We are also paving the way forward for transforming the company from a device manufacturer to an In-Vehicle Information Solutions Provider. With information increasingly becoming indispensable in people’s daily lives, Clarion pursues opportunities in the information field to enrich the lives of our customers by offering them safe and secure in-vehicle access to infotainment. We plan to continue growing in key areas that are even more deeply intertwined with the essential aspects of in-vehicle connectivity. And, we will forge ahead with initiatives to cultivate new product domains and become a truly global company with our eyes set on upcoming growth markets. As for our global direction, Clarion’s operations are divided into five regions, namely Japan, the Americas (North/Central/ South America), Europe, China, and Asia/Oceania (including India). Each region has its own overall administrative function, under which we have regional marketing, product development, production, and sales. We will continue to provide each and every region with optimized products and services by combining the respective geographical, customer and product functions. 
AI: What are some of the new applications of Smart Access that you think will be important in the near future specially connected to Clarion’s focus towards becoming a In-Vehicle Information Solutions Provider? 
Kawamoto: Smart Access aims at three important application categories. The system is designed to incorporate Text-to-Speech and voice recognition technologies, optimize them for use within the in-vehicle environment and, finally, take advantage of the smartphones to provide users a familiar way of accessing a myriad of applications and capabilities. Due to its inherent safety and security, we believe the voice recognition function for accessing information and entertainment services while driving will soon become an indispensable part of Smart Access. Thanks to our partnership with Google, we have come a long way when it comes to voice processing and, especially, cloud-side noise elimination which had previously been implemented vehicle-side through the infotainment device. Google’s technologies combined with our own advanced noise suppression algorithms, has allowed us to dramatically improve in-vehicle voice recognition with our new Intelligent VOICE technology. Cloud-side voice recognition is undoubtedly set to become increasingly advanced in the future, and there will certainly be dramatic improvements in incar convenience through the development of dialog-based voice control. 
AI asked Paul Lachner, President of the Clarion Corporation of America, what are some of the challenges facing Clarion as other in-vehicle information solution providers up their game. 
Lachner: We have to remain flexible and anticipate market shifts. This flexibility increasingly means partnering with the right players from inside or outside our traditional market to deliver the value that end customers demand. Although Clarion has been ahead of the curve for the past couple years when it comes to cloud connectivity, data management, user interface, and in-vehicle policy control, we know it will be challenging to keep our edge over competitors. We must continue building on our knowledge base and capabilities by taking creative approaches to these challenges. 
AI: What do you think of the recent partnership between Verizon Wireless and in-vehicle information service provider OnStar – how will this change things?
Lachner: This is only going to reinforce the popularity of smartphones as information and entertainment portals in the vehicle. The Telcos have very unique business models for offering services to consumers that are quite different from the traditional automotive business models. Bringing these models into the automotive space will continue to push the envelope of in-vehicle connectivity options and technologies. Ultimately, consumers stand to benefit the most from the flexibility this partnership will provide. In the coming years, the increased level of partnership between service and technology providers will certainly drive positive changes in the way we in the automotive industry interact with consumers. 
AI: What are some of the strategies Clarion has planned to keep abreast of the fast-moving changes in the in-vehicle information solutions industry? 
Lachner: Your question speaks to the heart of our key strategy within Clarion – providing in-vehicle information solutions. We’ve been at the forefront of in-vehicle connectivity and smartphone integration for a number of years. That effort has been focused on safely bringing technology and application solutions into the vehicle that consumers want. In 2013, we established our Clarion Silicon Valley Research Center to remain at the epicenter of where new mobile technologies and applications are invented, refined, tested and perfected. We have a team of engineers and marketing experts that are tied directly into not just Apple and Google, but also a myriad of other technology innovators and councils seeking assistance from automotive industry experts such as Clarion to tackle our complicated industry. In addition to boosting our presence and resources in the Silicon Valley area, we continue to hire top talent and dedicate resources in Michigan and Tokyo, where our core engineering groups are based, to design and develop new products and applications that will benefit our customers, especially our key OEM partners  

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