Cars Pump Up IQ to Get Edge

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By Ian Sherr

LAS VEGAS—Auto makers want their cars to be able to drive into the cloud.

Manufacturers like General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz Cars division are using the Consumer Electronics Show here to show off a set of computer services that operate online, or through the “cloud,” and allow customers to remotely track their cars, diagnose what’s wrong with them and potentially avoid collisions.

The products are part of efforts among car makers to use the Internet to offer features that have become commonplace throughout the technology industry. Along with that, though, come the problems associated with accumulating so much consumer data, specifically how that information is used and protected.

“It’s bringing about a new automotive era in my eyes, where cars will have intelligence,” said Thilo Koslowski, analyst for Gartner. “The car will become more than getting from ‘point a’ to ‘point b,’ but it will become self-aware of what’s happening around it, what’s happening to it and even what’s happening to the driver.”

GM’s OnStar unit said it would offer mobile application developers access to its computer systems that send and receive data from the cars of six million subscribers. With access to OnStar’s systems, mobile apps would be able to beam trip plans to the car’s navigation system or pinpoint the car’s location. “We’re not just talking about putting an app in the car,” said Vijay Iyer, an OnStar spokesman. “This is about giving access to vehicle-centric information.”

However, growing volumes of that information will present privacy dilemmas for the auto makers, not unlike what social networks and credit-card companies have faced. While auto makers are confident they are protecting the data and are quick to note that customers are opting into these programs, industry observers say the auto companies will likely make mistakes along the way.

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(Published Jan 13, 2012, in The Wall Street Journal.)