DETROIT – Electronics offers an array of possibilities to the auto industry.

But as auto makers look to add new features and functions, they need to keep in mind the customer, says a top General Motors Corp. executive.

In a keynote speech Wednesday (Oct. 20) to the 2004 Convergence International Congress on Transportation Electronics, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster warns against promoting new technology for technology’s sake.

“A careful selection is necessary,” he says. “You need to ask, is the added content sellable? Innovation and progress is not an end in itself. New technology must be benchmarked against customer value.

Carl-Peter Forster

“I can’t emphasize this enough,” he says.

In veiled jabs at BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz, Forster talks about the need to keep new systems simple, both to make it easier for customers and to ensure quality. BMW has been criticized for its complicated iDrive human-machine interface device, while Mercedes publicly has attributed its recent decline in quality rankings to problems with its electronic systems.

“Some auto makers have gone too far, and customers do not feel there is added value,” he says.

“It’s questionable whether some things can be used properly,” Forster says. “I’m convinced some things have strained customer relations” for certain auto makers.

Forster says going forward GM’s European arm, Adam Opel AG, has identified certain electronic core competencies it wants to maintain in-house. Although he doesn’t provide details, he says the auto maker will try to control those things that affect the brand, then translate that into specifications it gives to suppliers for new components and systems.

To ensure high quality levels, Opel plans to maintain control of all product validation, Forster says. And when possible, the auto maker will opt for proven technology and systems that follow industry standards, he says.

Forster says 90% of future automotive innovations will be based on electronics, adding, software content in vehicles doubles every two to three years.

Because of that the industry needs governments to devise clear legal frameworks for driver-assistance systems, Forster says, and he calls for further industry-wide standardization and simplification of electronic devices.

dzoia@primediabusiness.com