Honda-Google tie-up puts Android in cars without smartphones

PALO ALTO, U.S. — Honda Motor has agreed with Google to start installing the Android operating system next year in major models offered around the world, the search engine giant said Thursday, allowing services such as navigation and music playing to be offered without the use of a smartphone.

By tying up with the U.S. technology company, Honda aims to both increase customer convenience and reduce development costs.

Google’s Android Automotive system, first introduced in 2015, has the same basic design as the operating system for smartphones. Sweden’s Volvo Cars was the first adopter, and General Motors and others have also decided to use it. Honda will be the second Japanese company to employ it after Nissan Motor.

Honda was an early member of the Open Automotive Alliance, which was launched with Google at the helm in 2014. The Japanese automaker also has experience working with Android Auto, a technology that makes it easier to use Android-based smartphones in cars.

But Android Auto is based on the driver having a smartphone in the car to access maps, music and calls. Android Automotive, on the other hand, incorporates Android as the operating system for the car’s so-called infotainment systems, making a smartphone unnecessary. Apps can be imported directly into the car via a telecom connection.

Google’s voice control can be used for adjusting the car’s temperature and other areas not directly related to safety such as driving.

The operating system will also be incorporate into electric vehicles, enabling the vehicles to search for compatible charging stations and in-route guidance. Battery temperatures can be adjusted before arrival to reduce the time required for charging.

Google, Apple and other tech giants have increasingly viewed automobiles as a growth area, while automakers have struggled to keep their distance, fearing they will see their sources of added value snatched away from them.

But Honda has decided to adopt Android Automotive. “Android has a high degree in flexibility to change specifications, which benefits users,” said a company executive.

The convergence between automobiles and information technology continues as pressure to become more environmentally friendly increases. Honda has a relatively modest annual sales volume of about 5 million vehicles and is seeking alliances to secure necessary technologies. It worked with GM on EVs and automated driving. By cooperating with a tech giant, the company aims to reduce the burdens it faces, focusing resources on areas where it can differentiate itself from competitors.

Google started providing maps for cars in the mid-2000s. It has been promoting Android Auto, which builds upon smartphone applications such as maps to make them easier to use in cars and allows apps to be utilized by the vehicle’s monitors and speakers. On Thursday, the company added new services such as cashless payments for gas stations in the U.S.

By offering Android as the operating system for onboard information systems, Google brings itself even closer to core functions of cars. Some analysts say Android can be used as a springboard into more advance areas, but Google has noted that automated driving requires fundamentally different technology due to concerns such safety, so Android will continue to specialize in infotainment.