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General Motors Brings Apple CarPlay, Android Auto to Chevy Cars

At Code Conference, GM CEO Mary Barra announced the integration of the connected dashboards inside a range of Chevy cars.

Asa Mathat for Re/code

Mobile has taken over as the driving force of tech innovation. And what could be more mobile than the car, as Apple’s Jeff Williams said at Code? General Motors is making sure it is not left behind.

The automaker is bringing the dashboard operating systems from Apple and Google to 14 different 2016 Chevrolet cars, CEO Mary Barra announced at Code Conference 2015. The software will be offered across the full range of consumer models, from its upscale Corvette to the Chevy Spark, which retails for $13,000. GM plans to integrate the connected dashboards across the other brands in its fleet soon.

Last year, GM joined other big carmakers in announcing its partnership with the twin mobile software dominators, Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. But the industry has been slow to adapt. On Tuesday, Hyundai became the first to launch Android Auto in its production line.

With its integration, GM will be the first major U.S. automaker to integrate the software across at scale and inside mainstream cars, an attempt to move ahead of rivals like Chrysler and Ford.

Some automakers are reluctant to surrender the connected car nervous system to the tech giants, which are approaching auto manufacturers, sometimes with more restrictive terms. Mark Fields, Barra’s counterpart at Ford, recently voiced these concerns about the control of the user experience inside cars.

Barra has spent her entire career at GM, starting in 1980, working on design, engineering, program management and quality. She was appointed CEO in January 2014, becoming the first female chief of a major carmaker.

Since then, she has pushed the 107-year-old company to embrace digital technology. Last September, Barra introduced some automated driving features, like hands-free driving, and pledged that GM would deliver a car with vehicle-to-vehicle communication capabilities in two years. The company is also partnering with Google on its self-driving car project.

A year ago, GM announced it was bringing in-vehicle LTE to 30 of its vehicles, in partnership with OnStar and AT&T.

She will need to navigate partnerships like this and, perhaps, fend off competition from tech companies, like Google, Tesla and Uber, with their own automotive ambitions. Also, she may need to balance the costs of investing in technology against flattening sales — first quarter revenue was $35.7 billion, a 4.5 percent drop from last year.

GM may soon face further headaches in Washington, too: Last week, the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice is opening a criminal investigation into GM for failing to report a fatal defect with its ignition.

Self-driving cars

On stage, Barra addressed some of the sluggish pace of autonomous driving technology. GM has a range of features for its cars, but does not deploy them all of its fleet. Often, in charges for individual features. The tech for fully autonomous cars is already in place, Barra said, but they won’t be arriving anytime soon. In fact, vehicles like Google’s sans steering wheels, is “farther out than some people are predicting,” she added.

Part of that is the concern about robot vehicles, according to Barra. Her other excuse was that GM is focused on tailoring features for its customers, across different vehicle lines and markets.

Price could be an issue, too. Barra failed to offer specifics, but did mention that the implementation of autonomous driving features are expensive.

Tesla challenge

Chevy is one of the auto companies beginning to churn out electric vehicles. Tesla, of course, is another — a far flashier company, viewed as rooted in tech than Chevy. Tesla’s cars are also much more expensive.

When asked about Tesla, Barra was very diplomatic. She has driven in a Tesla. “I think it’s an impressive vehicle and an impressive company,” she said.

Yet, Barra did signal that Chevy and GM could begin to position itself as Tesla’s cheaper alternative. She mentioned the Chevy Volt, which runs under $35,000 for the latest model: “From a price point, it’s really democratizing electric vehicles.”

Ignition charges

Barra didn’t offer any specific comment about the potential DOJ charge, other than that GM is committed to safety. She stopped short of saying it was the safest automaker.

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