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A Volkswagen teaser that features dogs dressed as "Star Wars" characters barking out the "Imperial March" theme song associated with the evil Darth Vader has gone viral, generating more than 3 million views on YouTube since Wednesday night.
VW created the teaser, called "The Bark Side," in advance of a commercial it plans to air during the third quarter of the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 5.
The teaser aired during Wednesday's episode of "The Middle" on ABC. It was also posted to YouTube that evening.
Volkswagen gained both critical acclaim and sales publicity during last year's Super Bowl, when it aired "The Force."
That commercial also used the "Imperial March" music from "Star Wars" and showed a child in a Darth Vader costume attempting unsuccessfully to use the movies' legendary "force" on a variety of household appliances and other objects. To his surprise, he's able to use the force to start a Passat -– with a little unobserved help from his father.
[Updated at 12:31 p.m., Jan. 19: Mike Sheldon, chief executive of Deutsch LA, the Marina del Rey firm that does the creative work for Volkswagen, told The Times' Meg James that "The Bark" was the firm's way of trying to stay "one step ahead" of the competition. He added that the teaser was trending "faster than 'The Force did, and this isn't even a Super Bowl ad."]
– Jerry Hirsch
As General Motors introduced its first efforts to bring apps from your smartphone into your dashboard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford expanded its Sync AppLink system — which does just that and launched about a year ago.
When AppLink made its debut, Pandora was the only app a Sync user could operate via in-dash touch screen. Later, Stitcher radio gained Sync compatibility, which includes voice control as well.
Ford announced at CES in Las Vegas this week that apps for iPhones, BlackBerrys and phones that Google's Android would be added to the AppLink-friendly list, including NPR News, Slacker Radio, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio and Ford's own Sync Destinations turn-by-turn navigation app.
To see NPR News and Slacker Radio in action in a new Ford Mustang GT, check out our video from CES above.
Ford says that more apps that work with Sync's voice recogniton software are on the way. Oddly enough, Sync (which was developed through a partnership between Ford and Microsoft) has no AppLink compatibility with Windows Phone apps.
Just as with GM's in-car-app systems — Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE — AppLink can use apps only if it’s connected to a smartphone with the app installed, and it accesses data through the phone. Ford isn't selling any AppLink data plans.
For now, AppLink is available only in Sync-equipped Fiestas, Mustangs, Fusions, F-150s and Econoline vans, but the U.S. automaker is considering pushing AppLink out to other Ford brands, such as Lincoln, as well as to vehicles running older versions of Sync.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Ford's Sync Destinations app. Credit: Ford
General Motors, Ford, Mercedes, Subaru and even QNX (owned by Research In Motion) each showed off their respectively differing approaches to getting apps into the dashboards of our cars at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
And while the idea of apps in the car is a dream for some, so far, most of the apps center around replicating smartphone or tablet experiences from the driver's seat.
OnStar, the GM-owned telematics company, has a slightly different idea to piggyback off the work developers are doing building apps for use in both smartphones and cars.
OnStar wants developers to create apps that use its wireless service to actually control cars in new ways that utilize what it already can do — automatic crash response, stolen vehicle tracking, turn-by-turn navigation and roadside assistance for subscribers of its wireless in-car assistance service.
OnStar RemoteLink enables users (who also own select 2010 or newer Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles) to view real-time data such as mileage, fuel in the gas tank, oil life and tire pressure from their car or truck. The app also allows users to remotely unlock doors, honk horns, shine lights, start the engine and, of course, contact a dealer.
It's these sorts of capabilities that OnStar is now offering developers through its API, and the first developer to build on that is RelayRides, a neighbor to car-sharing service. A new RelayRides app, which we got a preview of at CES (as seen int he video above), will launch later this year on Apple's iOS and allow car owners to unlock their cars remotely after the person renting their vehicle arrives, or even track where a renter has taken their car.
OnStar's API isn't yet available to all developers; company officials said that would take place in the first half of this year, but what RelayRides is working on shows a bit of its potential. GM said at CES that any developers interested in using the OnStar API should email the company at email@example.com.
RelayRides says its new OnStar integrated app, in both an iOS and Android-friendly HTML5 form, will launch "early this year."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screenshot of OnStar's RemoteLink app for Apple's iOS. Credit: OnStar
Like television makers, leading automobile manufacturers want application developers to imbue cars with some of the energy and innovation seen in smartphones. And like their counterparts in the TV industry, they haven't settled on a standard way of doing so. The mishmash of approaches means that drivers may have to wait longer for their favorite apps to become available in the models of their choice, as different manufacturers follow divergent paths toward the connected car.
The differences surfaced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, where a host of car brands demonstrated the entertainment and information offerings they're developing. Mercedes-Benz typified one approach, showing off a customized app platform built in-house and curated by its apps team in Silicon Valley. Subaru exemplified the opposite strategy; it chose the apps platform that Aha, a subsidiary of Harman, is developing for car makers and aftermarket car-stereo manufacturers.
Executives at both car companies say they want to take advantage of app developers' work on mobile phones. But they also note that their top priority is safety, which shapes their choices of apps to make available and the way drivers interact with them.
Mercedes is atypical in one important respect: It embeds the equivalent of a 3G Verizon phone into its cars, rather relying on the driver's smartphone for connectivity. The latest version of its telematics software, called mbrace2 and due in April, is the company's first that can be updated remotely. That means new apps can be added while they're still new, instead of subjecting them to the industry's torturous three-year development cycle — a delay that can render an app obsolete by the time it makes it into a car, said Sascha Simon, Mercedes' head of advanced product planning.
It's not an open platform, however, and Mercedes will not publish its programming interfaces for developers, Simon said in an interview this week. But it is making available through mbrace2 a wide variety of apps and services that are relevant and enhance the driving experience — 60 so far, and the number will grow.
These include a widget that lets owners send their car's navigation system points of interest they find while browsing on their PCs or smartphones (a new restaurant, for example), and a streamlined version of Facebook that can write its own status updates based on the car's location and its destination. "You can't stop people from doing it," even if you don't want them using Facebook behind the wheel, Simon said. "If folks will use it, let's make it as safe as humanly possible."
Mercedes also tries to compensate for the distractions that apps present by equipping their cars with technology that can apply the brakes automatically, guard against drifting across lanes and warn drivers about vehicles in their blind spots. But their vehicles are, ahem, more expensive than the average ride.
Connectivity to the car is a two-way street, and Mercedes sees a big opportunity to offer services based on data that apps glean from the car's diagnostic system. These include the ability to trouble-shoot problems remotely and recover stolen vehicles. There are obvious privacy trade-offs to having that kind of monitoring, though, which is why such services are opt-in only, Simon said.
Subaru relies on its drivers' cellphones to supply the in-car connectivity. Although it's using Aha's platform to integrate apps into its cars' built-in audio system and display, Subaru still controls what the user interface looks like and which apps to make available. "It's our car," said David Sullivan, a car line manager for Subaru. "At the end of the day, we answer to the customer."
Because Aha's software platform is online, not in the cars themselves, apps can be updated continuously after the cars are sold, said Robert L. Acker, Aha's general manager. Aha also gives drivers a single, simple set of controls for using all the apps, which include the MOG and Rhapsody on-demand music services, Slacker and Shoutcast online radio services, audio books, Facebook and Twitter news feeds and NPR podcasts. The apps are aggregated into a menu on the car's display, turning them into a "fourth band" alongside AM, FM and satellite radio.
When a driver tunes in one of these services, the car's audio system sends a link through the driver's smartphone to the Internet, pulling content from the driver's account with that service. For example, tuning in Slacker would provide access to the custom Slacker stations the driver created, as well as Slacker's own playlists. To limit the distraction, Sullivan said, Subaru plans to give drivers access just to five preselected favorites per screen. They'll be able to make their selections through voice commands as well as by using the display's touchscreen.
Acker said Aha's goal is to make it far easier for app developers to integrate with multiple car makers, rather than tailoring their software to meet the various manufacturers' technical requirements and design mandates. At this point, though, its only announced partners are Subaru and Honda. It's also available through the car stereos that Pioneer sells directly to consumers.
QNX Software Systems of Canada is another company making software platforms for connected cars. Kerry Johnson, a senior product manager for QNX, said the fragmentation in the industry was a real problem for developers. In his view, three things have to happen before cars routinely support a wide array of apps: Automakers have to give developers more guidance on how not to distract drivers; a software platform will have to emerge that gives developers the right tools and the incentive to use them; and there need to be enough cars with systems that can be upgraded to support apps.
"By 2013 at the earliest, you'll start seeing a base of vehicles that are upgradeable," Johnson said. Whether developers will be motivated enough to write apps for them, he added, is another question.
– Jon Healey
Photo: Subaru's interface. Credit: Harman / Aha
General Motors is at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in a major way, showing of its new infotainment systems for Chevrolets and Cadillacs.
Both systems — Chevy's MyLink and Cadillac's CUE — will debut this year, and each brings touch screens and in-car apps like Pandora and Stitcher to GM's automobiles. For many cars, MyLink and CUE replace in the dashboard a big radio and CD player.
After getting some hands-on time with CUE and MyLink, I couldn't help but think that systems like these are yet another nail in the coffin of CDs and physical media in general.
And why not? It seems that for years CD sales and even DVD sales have been on the decline. With the rise of MP3 players and smartphones, many people are now plugging their digital devices into their dashboards to listen to music. Even GPS units have been replaced by navigation apps found in smartphones for many.
So what's GM doing about this change in consumer behavior? MyLink and CUE are aided by users who have smartphones. For example, both systems offer a Pandora app for listening to music streamed from the Web, but that app is unusable in the dashboard unless you have a smartphone with a Pandora app of its own.
When you're using Pandora with MyLink or CUE, you're consuming data on your smartphone's data plan as well. And MyLink and CUE can play music, video and even photos loaded on a smartphone, MP3 player or even a thumb drive.
Although the systems use the smartphone, they don't by any means replace the smartphone's role in a car. Instead, MyLink and CUE build off of this growing relationship between consumers and their phones.
Of course, MyLink and CUE are usable without the aid of a smartphone, for things like operating a car's air-conditioning system, tuning the ol' AM/FM radio or getting turn-by-turn navigation through OnStar (with an OnStar subscription of course).
Chevy's MyLink also comes in two flavors, so to speak. There is a lower-end version, built and supplied by LG, that will be found in the 2013 Sonic and Spark, Chevrolet's entry-level autos. In these models, MyLink will be devoid of a built-in CD player.
However, a different version of MyLink built by Panasonic for higher-end Chevrolets such as the Volt and the Equinox can be ordered with a CD player as an option. With Cadillac Cue, owners can get a CD player in their glove box as an option.
The two variations of MyLink perform the same actions but offer different user interfaces and perform tasks a bit differently. For example, although both can handle voice recognition for hands-free calling, LG's version uses voice recognition software found in a connected smartphone, and the Panasonic version has this feature built in.
GM has promised software upgrades and some more apps for MyLink and CUE after customers offer some feedback on what sort of apps they want.
To see CUE in action, check out our hands-on video above. For MyLink, check out the video from GM below.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Photo: Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system. Credit: General Motors
The research lab is "further growing the company's commitment to make technology affordable for millions," the Dearborn, Mich., automaker said in a statement. Ford said its future "is not just about building cars" but also about creating "uncompromised personal mobility experiences for people around the world."
The lab will be used as a hub to help Ford develop partnerships with established and start-up tech firms and with universities in the area, such as Stanford.
Ford Research and Innovation, the company's advanced engineering arm, plans to open the Silicon Valley lab in the first quarter. Some of the tech areas it will tackle there are seamless connectivity, cloud computing and clean tech. The lab will create an "innovation network," connecting to Ford's Advanced Design Studio in Irvine and to Ford employees working with connectivity-platform partner Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash.
"Silicon Valley represents a deep and dynamic technology neighborhood and is far from Dearborn," said K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for open innovation with Ford Research and Innovation. "With so many opportunities and so much potential, our new lab will allow us to scout new technologies and partners in their own environment and continue our expansion beyond the traditional automaker mindset to drive innovation."
The research lab's employees will include some local recruits and some people rotated in from the global network of Ford workers. Prasad said Ford's Silicon Valley office would not duplicate or replace the work being done at the company's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn or at its overseas facilities in Germany and China.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally is scheduled to elaborate on the areas of focus for the Silicon Valley lab.
– Andrea Chang
Image: Ford is increasing its West Coast presence with the opening of a research lab in Silicon Valley. Credit: Ford
States should implement a full ban on cellphones — even hands-free devices — when driving except in emergency situations, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday. The board said the dangers outweighed any benefits to talking or texting while on the road.
"It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. "No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life."
The recommendation was unanimously agreed to by the five-member board and drew attention to an August 2010 traffic collision on Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, Mo.
In that incident, a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed because of a construction zone. The pickup truck was then struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. As a result, two people died and 38 others were injured.
The NTSB's investigation of the case revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.
"The Missouri accident is the most recent distraction accident the NTSB has investigated," the board said. "However, the first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cell phone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people."
The board doesn't have the power to impose restrictions, but its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers, according to the Associated Press.
In California, a ban on hand-held cellphones while driving has been in effect since 2008.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A driver talks on her cellphone while driving in Beverly Hills. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times
Businesses in the state collected $467 million in electric vehicle venture capital investment during the first half of this year, or 69% of the global total, according to a study by Next 10, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.
California also is now tied with Michigan, the traditional center of the U.S. auto industry, in the number of patents filed for electric vehicle technology. Both states generated 300 patents for electric vehicle technology from 2008 to 2010.
Globally, California trails only Japan and South Korea in electric vehicle patents and leads other nations, including Germany, Taiwan and France, Perry said.
Employment also is taking off. Tesla Motors has hired 300 workers in California so far this year, bringing its national workforce to about 1,400. It plans to double its employment next year, with most of the jobs coming to an auto factory in Fremont that it is refurbishing to launch production of its Model S electric sedan in 2012.
“We have a huge hiring plan for next year,” said Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources.
Tesla’s growth is starting to trickle to vendors and contractors. Geshuri said Tesla is busy upgrading and building more office space at the Fremont factory.
“That means we will need more carpet, tables and desks, and that has an economic effect on the trade groups that provide those services,” he said.
Other companies, from small electric drive manufacturers to businesses that install electric vehicle charging stations commercially and in homes also are growing rapidly, with many having doubled their workforces or grown even faster this year.
The growth is important because it is one of the few areas of expansion in a struggling state economy, said, Tracey Grose, a vice president of collaborative economics who prepared Next 10’s report.
To be sure, the venture capital being spent in California represents just a fraction of what the auto industry is putting into electric and hybrid vehicle technology. Nissan, for example, is spending more than $1 billion on just one project: a new factory to build battery packs for its electric Leaf sedan in Smyrna, Tenn.
And the industry is not without its setbacks; last week electric vehicle start-up Aptera Motors shut its doors, putting its staff of 30 out of work after the Carlsbad company ran out of funds.
But “venture capital and patents give us a look into innovation and are a leading indicator of emerging industries,” Grose said.
California’s status as the nation’s biggest auto market -– and electric vehicle market — and a tech savvy population of early adopters have made the state a friendly environment for companies investing in electric drive technology, said Jordan Ramer, chief executive of EV Connect, a Culver City company that installs public and home charging stations.
“It is the natural place for new EV manufacturers,” he said. “The market is here.”
EV Connect has hired 15 workers at its headquarters this year, including customer service representatives and technicians, more than doubling its employment. The company also has signed up 300 contract electricians to conduct installation work nationally.
Coda Automotive, a Los Angeles start-up that is developing electric vehicles and battery technology, has hired about 225 workers in California this year. Additionally, it has contracted with Amports in Benicia to take the sedans Coda is importing from China and install electric drive trains into the vehicles and complete their assembly.
And Fisker Automotive has more than 600 full-time workers and contract staff at its Anaheim headquarters now -– up from fewer than 150 at the beginning of this year. It is just bringing to market the Fisker Karma hybrid, a 400-horsepower luxury sedan.
– Jerry Hirsch
Photo: Tesla Model S. Credit: Tesla