Cars as a Service? Mercedes-Benz latest to use cloud to flog vehicles

Car companies look for buzzy terms to denote high-tech features. But is it really cloud computing?

As a car manufacturer how do you express that your vehicles have the latest and greatest cutting-edge technology? Use the buzzwords.

That's what Mercedes-Benz seems to be doing in its latest round of advertising (see video here) for mbrace2, an in-car computer system. It comes with apps allowing drivers to check news, sports, weather and traffic, and update their social media status, while having the ability to download new apps as Mercedes custom builds them, all from "the cloud."

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Other car manufacturers have used cloud terminology in their publicity materials, but Mercedes seems to be one of the first to use cloud terminology in its consumer-focused television advertising.

In April 2011, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Akio Toyoda, president of the Toyota Motor Corp., held a joint press conference to announce a $12 million investment by the car company's media division to use Microsoft's Azure cloud to deliver telematics to its vehicles -- meaning a combination of telecommunication and information technology services, it says. Ford has discussed cloud-connected vehicles too, as seen in this Ford Evos concept car video. Audi, BMW, Honda and GM each have their own versions of integrated technology in their vehicles.

It's part of a larger trend by manufacturers to allow owners to stay connected when they get in their car, says Mark Boyadjis, an automotive analyst at IHS iSuppli. By using the cloud terminology in its ads, Mercedes is attempting to portray it's systems as the most high tech, fitting in with the company's motto: "The best or nothing." But does the average person really care about the cloud in their car?

"Joe Consumer has no idea it is cloud connected or cloud enabled," Boyadjis says. "They might see the buzz term and think it's high tech, but they really just want their Pandora to work."

Some may even question Mercedes' use of the term and whether being able to download apps into a car's computer system fits the definition of cloud computing.

But Boyadjis says there can be some helpful benefits from using the technology. The idea of owners being able to update applications and the technology in their car is better than having static systems that can't be updated and therefore may be out-of-date quickly in the fast-changing world of technology. "You're buying into a platform that can, and probably will, get better," he says. "Cloud is a sort of ubiquitous, nebulous term that kind of resonates with people, representing that."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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