A possible statewide cell phone restriction, combined with similar laws in 30 other states, could create a better market for Delphi Electronics & Safety.
The Indiana Legislature is considering banning drivers from texting while they’re behind the wheel.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill in late January that would ban drivers from texting while driving. The state Senate, where a similar bill died last year, awaits a hearing on the bill.
Violators would face an infraction and fines that could reach as high as $500 if the state law passes.
The bill was something Delphi predicted several years ago would happen, said Bob Schumacher, the company’s general director of advanced product and business development.
So the Kokomo subsidiary of Delphi Automotive developed one of its most recent products partially in response to the pending change in driving laws.
“When I heard this legislation was coming out, I just smiled,” Schumacher said. “We knew it was coming.”
In 2010, Delphi unveiled a connectivity platform for smart phones, Schumacher said.
The market for cell phone-related technology in vehicles is going to grow as more states begin enforcing laws related to talking on cell phones and texting while driving, said Richard Wallace, the director of the Transportation Systems Analysis Group for the Center for Automotive Research.
A simpler Bluetooth connection device designed by Delphi debuted in Audis in 2010. But the company already has competition from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors in a growing market related to more complex smart phone platforms.
Delphi’s connection device removes standard dash panel features, including radios. In their place, drivers can plug in their iPhones, BlackBerries and other smart phones. The connection device speaks to the vehicles with Bluetooth and WiFi. Phones’ applications then project onto a touch screen in the center of the dash console, where radios and temperature controls would normally be.
As soon as the car shifts into drive, most applications on the phones will lock out, except for GPS, music programs and other basic or necessary driving tools. Once night comes or inclement weather hits, more options lock out to prevent cell phone distraction.
Help from Statistics
Companies often promote the connection platforms’ safety features by using the same types of statistics that state officials have been using to pass the texting while driving ban.
To promote their points or products, government and corporate leaders echo statistics like 18 percent of all traffic fatalities involved cell phone use, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Or using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of having a .08 percent blood alcohol level, according to a University of Utah study.
“The bans are a good idea,” Wallace said. “Certainly suppliers and vendors and so on that are closer to production akin to what Delphi is doing, they would obviously stand to benefit from bans.”
City and statewide bans on texting while driving have begun to nudge car buyers toward vehicles that incorporate safe-cell phone technology, Wallace said.
“I think it’s probably too late to untrain people to expect to be able to have connectivity while they’re moving,” he said. “I do think having a safer and non-illegal way to do it will be attractive to people when the bans go in place.”
The Road Ahead
Schumacher said Delphi has already seen some market improvement with its simpler Bluetooth connectivity device as cell phone laws pass around the U.S.
The Troy, Mich.-based automotive supplier released the Connectivity Navigation Radio last year in the Audi A1, and it soon after began putting them in the Audi A6 Sedan and Audi A7 Sportback.
The CNR uses Bluetooth, like the new platform, and allows drivers to plug in media players, memory, flash drives and iPods.
Schumacher said Delphi began looking into hands-free developments, like the CNR and the new platform, in the late 1990s as cell phones started becoming common and government leaders wanted to enforce laws about driving with them.
“This is going to happen,” he said about texting-while-driving laws. “Delphi is going to be ready.”
Everyone is On Board
Delphi’s smart phone innovation is venturing into a field that Ford entered in 2007 with its Ford Sync connection, which has led into the MyFord Touch.
The newer of the Ford platforms covers many of the same functions as Delphi’s, plus MyFord Touch includes voice-activated commands to access music and intercept phone calls while driving.
General Motors has also headed into the smart phone connection market.
The Detroit company announced last week the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox and extended-range Volt will include the Chevy MyLink, GM’s response to the MyFord Touch.
Delphi hasn’t revealed any vehicles that its new connectivity platform would appear in.
Schumacher said potential buyers have shown strong interest in signing contracts, but he would not release further details on the business deals.
• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.