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Is INRIX Calling the Right Signals in Seattle?

by Roger Lanctot | 3月 10, 2016

INRIX has pulled the equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary pass with the announcement of its acquisition of automotive app integrator OpenCar.  INRIX CEO, Brian Mistele, has positioned the acquisition (in comments to Automotive News) as putting INRIX in position to help car makers take on Apple and Google when integrating smartphones in cars.

http://tinyurl.com/h73pafw - "Inrix Takes on Apple, Google for in-car Apps"

It's a noble intention but it is reminiscent of both the current Republican presidential primary and the NFL's Seattle Seahawk's loss to the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs.

In the current Republican presidential primary in the U.S. pundits opposed to the rise of the bombastic billionaire, Donald Trump, and his endless string of electoral victories have taken to describing runner-up Senator Ted Cruz as "winning" second place or Senator Marco Rubio as "winning" third place.  Being second or third to Trump has become the equivalent of winning.  In the same way, football analysts heaped praise on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for "crushing" the Panthers on third downs.  Winning second and doing well on third down is not a strategy for achieving victory.

If INRIX is really taking on Apple and Google with OpenCar, then it is facing a Cruz/Rubio/Wilson proposition - and the outlook is not good.  Here is a playbook that I think can put a "W" on the board for INRIX.

INRIX has some powerful neighbors up there in Seattle.  OpenCar, a fellow local operator, has a clever, nimble, low cost app and content delivery platform it has crafted for Mazda.  The OpenCar/Mazda system is not yet in production, but the prospect of this solution making its way into Mazda-branded vehicles is good.

OpenCar executives have appropriately focused on building their solution which has left little time for business development, though the company has been active in the W3C Forum and the GenIVI Alliance - both of which have provided ample exposure for the company.  INRIX, in contrast has a global sales force - a team! - that can help carry the OpenCar flag and fuse it with INRIX's traffic, parking and other connected services.

But taking on Apple and Google is going to take something more than a strong sales force, a clever solution and good intentions.  INRIX is going to need muscle.  That's where a couple more Seattle neighbors come into the picture.

There is an extraordinary level of industry collaboration taking place in the automotive industry today around Ford's SmartDeviceLink (SD-Link, for short) open source app integration platform.  SD-Link evolved out of Ford's acquisition of Livio.

By open sourcing SD-Link, Ford has attracted the attention of PSA, Renault, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Honda and other car makers.  These car makers are working together as never before - not unlike the Daimler-BMW-Audi collaboration around HERE. 

The attraction of SD-Link is that it is not only open source and works with either Apple or Android-based phones, there are also already several dozen applications enabled to work within its framework.  Based on public statements it is all but certain that Toyota has already committed to SD-Link with the help of UIEvolution, another Seattle neighbor.

OpenCar has already laid the groundwork for implementing SD-Link, so the path forward in this direction is clear.  But this is still not enough.  There are two key neighbors that INRIX should be cozying up to to make this gameplan come to fruition: Amazon and VoiceBox.

Amazon is already working closely with Ford in support of the SD-Link platform.  An Amazon executive demonstrated vehicle-to-vehicle communications using SD-Link at the recent CES show in Las Vegas.

INRIX is launching its Autelligent assistant in connection with the OpenCar announcement.  Autelligent is a Google-like solution designed to learn user preferences for navigation and other in-vehicle activities.  While Autelligent is clever it is nearly identical to similar iniatives from Telenav, NNG, HERE and others.  This is where VoiceBox, in Bellevue, Wash., comes into the picture.

VoiceBox is very close to making a game changing announcement of its own intended to position the company as a strategic alternative to Nuance's in-vehicle assistant.  INRIX would be well served by joining forces with VoiceBox for a full-blown app integration, content and app management and (Amazon) cloud service delivery platform.

Several years ago INRIX's CEO touted the company's plan for a $1B IPO.  The plan did not materialize.  But CEO Mistele later managed to entice the Porsche Family to take a share in the company that valued INRIX at $500M.

In the same way, the Seahawks were down 31-0 to the Panthers after 30 minutes of play in January before mounting a vicious comeback.  In the end, the Seahawks fell 31-24, but left the field with their heads held high.  An even better opportunity stands before INRIX to transform in-vehicle connectivity and validate its $500M valuation.  Acquiring OpenCar creates some intriguing opportunities, but it's going to take more than "winning" second place or doing well on third down.  INRIX needs to complete its portfolio with a speech solution and cloud offering as a fully realized and differentiated package.

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