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Nissan executive sees ‘connected car’ as auto makers' response to Uber

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The increasing connectivity of vehicles will enable auto makers to fight back against threats from disruptive challengers such as car-sharing service Uber Technologies Inc., a senior Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. executive says.

As drivers make their vehicles more personal and extensions of their homes and offices, they will be less interested in sharing and will likely insist on retaining their own autos, said Philippe Klein, Nissan's chief planning officer.

"Your smartphone, you're not sharing it. It's becoming more and more a personal object," Mr. Klein said.

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The same theory should apply to vehicles, he said.

"The connected vehicle is part of you. More and more it's a continuation of your living room, it's a continuation of your office, it's what you have in your cellphone."

The development of the connected vehicle is part of a sweeping transformation of the industry as auto makers spend billions of dollars on new entertainment and communication systems, technologies to make vehicles more autonomous, and new propulsion systems to meet regulatory requirements.

Much of that spending comes as a response to demands from consumers, but also the threat posed by Uber and potentially even more disruptive new entrants such as Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google, which are working to bring vehicles to market.

"They are serious companies so obviously we are looking closely at what they're doing," Mr. Klein said in an interview during a visit to the head office of Nissan Canada Inc. in Mississauga. "We have to be careful, but I think we have a lot of things we can do, and we are doing, that reinforce the [proprietary nature] of the car."

Among those things is the development of 10 autonomous vehicles by 2020, but Mr. Klein is quick to distinguish between autonomous vehicles and driverless cars, which have been the subject of much media hype.

Driverless cars might appear in what he called "the far future." On the autonomous vehicle front, however, Nissan has a road map that projects different steps through to 2020 that the auto maker believes will meet the challenges presented to such vehicles in an urban environment.

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The first step is single-lane highway driving, followed by multi-lane capability with vehicles able to change lanes.

The final step is "ending up with what is more difficult – city driving and mastering crossroads and these sort of things."

But the day is not far off, he noted, when commuters on a crowded highway will be able to switch on autonomous mode and start working on e-mail, data and other functions.

"This is not science fiction," Mr. Klein said. "The technical bricks are there, it's just a matter of putting them together."

Auto makers and regulators tout the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles, but Mr. Klein added that consumers clearly see benefits of being able to make use of time that is currently wasted in traffic jams when "you need to have your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel."

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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