From self-driving technology to entertainment and search, Google, Apple and Amazon are trying to gain exclusive access to your vehicle.
When Ford announced that starting in 2023 its cars and trucks would come with Google Maps, Assistant and Play Store preinstalled, CEO Jim Farley called the partnership between his iconic U.S. automaker and the search giant a chance to “reinvent” the automobile — making it an office-on-wheels, with more connectivity than any phone or laptop.
“We were spending hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions every year, keeping up with basically a generic experience that was not competitive to your cellphone,” Farley crowed on CNBC, announcing the six-year deal with the tech giant.
The deal gave Ford some much-needed cachet and Google a chance to showcase its products for millions of drivers and their passengers. But many tech-industry watchdogs looked at the Ford-Google car of the future with different eyes. They fear that tech companies will soon be doing to cars what they did to phones: Tying their exclusive operating systems to specific products to force out competitors and dominate a huge swath of the global economy.
Indeed, the smartphone wars are over, and Google and Apple won. Now they — and Amazon — are battling to control how you operate within your car. All three see autos as the next great opportunity to reach American consumers, who spend more time in the driver’s seat than anywhere outside their home or workplace. And automakers, after years of floundering to incorporate cutting-edge technologies into cars on their own, are increasingly eager for Silicon Valley’s help — hoping to adopt both its tech and its lucrative business models where consumers pay monthly for ongoing services instead of shelling out for a product just once.
Now, having missed the boat as the tech giants cornered the market on smartphones, some policymakers and regulators believe the battle over connected cars represents a chance to block potential monopolies before they form.
State attorneys general who sued Google in 2020 for monopolizing online search highlighted concerns about the company’s move into autonomous cars in their federal antitrust complaint. Meanwhile, in Europe, the EU’s competition authority has opened a probe into Google’s contracts related to connected cars.
“It’s really hard to remedy anticompetitive conduct five or 10 years down the line,” said Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director for Public Knowledge. “For many consumers, buying a car is a long-term decision. If a consumer is going to be locked into services with a certain company because they bought a car that they are going to use for five to 10 years, that can make competition more difficult.”