Auto Insiders Have Debated Wheth-er future vehicles will be better off with integrated telematics and electronics systems or engineered simply to accommodate handheld cell phones, iPods and other consumer devices.

The answer is apparent, executives say. It is both — and then some.

In a panel entitled “Trends in Telematics and Navigation” at the Ward's Auto Interiors Conference in Dearborn, MI, supplier and OEM executives say future vehicles will need to keep pace with rapid growth in consumer electronics and software.

Vehicles will need to accommodate a combination of embedded and non-embedded systems, plus have the ability to connect to the Internet for frequent updates and new applications.

Ford Motor Co. calls the strategy, “Beamed In, Brought In and Built In,” says Jim Buczkowski, director-electrical/electronic systems engineering.

He points to the fast pace of design in the electronics industry, highlighted by the number of iPods and Nokia cell phones brought to market over a span of just a few years and the almost daily release of new software applications for such devices as Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

“Customers will be expecting us to continually match or be close to what they see with (new features in) consumer electronics,” Buczkowski says. “We'll never have the speed we need. We will need the Internet for that.”

Ford's first effort at this kicked off in late May, when '10 model Fusion, Milan, MKZ and Mustang owners could download initial updates to the auto maker's Sync telematics system. The updates, which add traffic information to navigation capability, can be downloaded free from a website and transferred to the vehicle via a USB connection.

Cars also must integrate devices brought onboard by passengers. That trend is well under way, with many vehicles now having Bluetooth compatibility and USB ports for connecting hardware.

“Our job now is to make the car more attractive, to come up with better looking interiors, better functioning environments,” says Marios Zenios, vice president-connectivity and infotainment for Chrysler LLC.

The auto maker's 200C electric-vehicle concept hints at Chrysler's design direction, with an iPhone-like touch screen interface for operating the sound, navigation and other onboard systems.

Embedded onboard devices, such as General Motors Corp.'s OnStar, also will proliferate, allowing vehicles to transmit diagnostic information to owners and dealerships and provide other safety and security features, the panel says.

“The OnStar route is still popular and gaining momentum,” says Phil Magney, vice president-Automotive Research Practice for iSuppli Corp.

Voice-recognition systems will be a must, as well, as electronics features proliferate and have the potential for distracting drivers.

“We now are in the process of establishing standards on how long the driver's eyes leave the road in operating HMIs (human-machine interface systems) and various features,” Buczkowski says.

A continuing challenge will be to make sure there's enough computing power onboard to accommodate new devices and applications.

“The tricky part is getting the right hardware that will anticipate future software needs,” points out Brian Droessler, director-Connectivity Group North America for Continental Automotive Systems.

And, perhaps most importantly, operation of all these devices will be more intuitive than some systems today.

“If users can't figure it out, they're not going to use it,” says Paul Kirsch, vice president-Hughes Telematics.