TURIN, Italy — May 20, 2013 — When the Fiat Nuova 500 rolled off the line in 1957, Fiat’s goal was to introduce the automobile to Italians who much preferred motoring around on their Vespa or Lambretta scooters. The Nuova 500 became one of Fiat’s most iconic models and helped parent company Fiat S.p.A. get to where it is today — one of the leading manufacturers of mass market, luxury and performance automobiles, with 4.2 million vehicles rolling out of Fiat S.p.A factories in 2012. Yet the basic idea behind the Nuova 500 is still inspiring technology innovation and business growth today.
Fast forward to 2006 and the rollout of the Fiat 500. This reincarnation of the original city car drew many design cues from its predecessor, but it was larger, faster — and smarter. The Fiat 500 included Blue&Me, a state-of-the-art infotainment system jointly designed with Microsoft and powered by Windows Embedded Automotive.
Affordable, flexible infotainment
A lot has changed since Blue&Me was first released: smartphones have become an almost-natural extension of their owners, and the Fiat Group has expanded its global presence, perhaps most notably through its majority ownership of the Chrysler Motor Company.
Fiat wanted a new version of Blue&Me that reflected both of these changes. It wanted an infotainment system that was affordable, flexible and would work equally well across more than 15 car models under the Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Dodge and Chrysler brands, as well as on the company’s line of commercial vehicles. And the company wanted it ready for the 2012 rollout of the Fiat 500L, which left a mere 18 months to complete the project.
To keep it affordable, Fiat needed a platform that was powered by a smaller processor and required reduced storage space. For flexibility, it wanted a solution that supported multiple device types, that enabled the use of applications such as eco:Drive, that supported the use of touch and hands-free capabilities through the use of voice recognition, and that could be updated to support new devices and applications.
Candido Peterlini, director of Product Planning Infotainment for Fiat, says the company’s plans were based on an intimate understanding of customer needs.
“The loyalty of Fiat’s customer base has given us strong insight into the needs of the driver, and that’s where everything starts,” Peterlini says. “From there, we make decisions about things like picking the right user interface and offering it at an appealing price point. It all comes down to delivering the technology that makes the most sense to the drivers and helps them get the most use out of their car.”
A fine-tuned experience in no time flat
Fiat chose Continental Automotive Group because of its expertise developing in-car technology solutions and experience working with Microsoft and Windows Embedded, both of which were critical in completing the new system on time. Using the Windows Embedded Automotive development tools helped Continental to streamline development time, and its close relationship with Microsoft allowed Continental to expedite any requests for technical assistance. Collectively, this helped Continental deliver a system that struck the balance between affordability and capability.
The system meets all of Fiat’s requirements and bears the name Uconnect, the same given to the infotainment system in Chrysler and Dodge. Uconnect 5.0, the infotainment system in the Fiat 500L, features a 5-inch, high-resolution LCD touchscreen, radio with analog/digital tuners, support for multiple devices and media players, integration with Fiat’s eco:Drive app, and the ability to install new applications and services. And it will soon be available with support for Tomtom navigation.
Fiat has made Uconnect 5.0 part of the standard equipment package on the 500L, and the company’s own research suggests that it could see as much as a 40 percent increase in market penetration by making it standard across the entire model line. Such a move wouldn’t be possible without a lower-cost solution such as Windows Embedded Automotive.
And with Windows Embedded, car owners benefit from a solution that transforms their vehicle into an intelligent system: not only does it integrate their digital lives, but it also improves the safety and energy efficiency of how they drive by giving them access to apps, information and services.
Peterlini calls Uconnect a good balance between technology and implementation: “We needed a high-quality, upgradable solution, but didn’t want a huge processor that would drive up costs. With Windows Embedded, we found the sweet spot.”