From the News Desk

SAN MATEO (03/10/2000) - Rough patches on the road ahead for e-carsAuto industry leaders are all revved up about connecting cars to the Net. Going beyond existing GPS (global positioning system)-driven location/mapping services, some auto and IT industry executives envisage salespeople getting the latest pricing information as they roll up to a customer call.

These developments, as outlined in our Page One story by Ephraim Schwartz, have real possibilities for e-businesses, but I see a few ice patches on the road.

For a start, the onboard computer is competing with the exploding number of handheld devices. A sales executive, for example, may not want to cede his or her beloved PDA (personal digital assistant) or two-way pager for a company-supplied, Net-connected car. Part of the issue there is, ironically, mobility. Face-to-face meetings might be enhanced with a PDA or laptop in hand.

Optimally, road warriors will be able to alternate between devices, including in-vehicle computers.

Voice technology could make all the difference for the adoption rate of the computer-enabled cars. With a lot more processing potential in a dashboard than in a PDA, busy executives could have their e-mail, headlines, or reports read to them as they navigate the interstates.

In fact, the issue of safety makes voice technology a prerequisite for any computer-equipped car. Anyone who has almost been sideswiped by a driver blithely talking on a cell phone knows that most drivers do not need more distractions. Applications that require a lot of interactivity should be developed for another mobile platform.

The business models involved in this auto overhaul also require some serious tuning for corporate America. Depending on the financial and technical details, some companies may want to bypass industry portals that provide wireless services and communicate directly with employees.

In any case, the emergence of e-cars is just another reason why companies today need to view themselves as information providers, not just producers of their product. Will e-cars be parked in your corporate fleet?

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