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Toyota Inks Deal for Telenav In-Car Navigation, Drives Away From Google and Apple

Another big carmaker takes a step to avoid the fate of the handset business.

Earlier this year, Toyota spelledout what many car companies were thinking: It would rather have its own software inside its cars than software from Apple and Google. On Thursday, it took another step to box out the mobile giants.

The Japanese carmaker signed a deal with two auto tech companies, Telenav and UIEvolution, to equip some 2016 models with a dashboard navigation system linked to mobile phones. It works with both iOS and Android. But, according to the software partners, the system doesn’t wrest control from Toyota, a rising concern in the auto industry as Apple and Google promote their connected dashboards.

“We’re in the early stages of the world of [Apple’s] CarPlay and Android Auto,” said Niall Berkery, who leads Telenav’s auto efforts in Detroit. “Some of the carmakers have run down that path very fast. Other are waiting to see how this plays out.”

Part of that wait is inherent to the auto industry, which can move glacially. Another part comes from the very real concern from carmakers that surrendering control of in-car experiences to mobile companies would render them useless. This fear is particularly acute when it comes to Google, which has its own maps, self-driving car software and an insatiable hunger for data.

Ford CEO Mark Fields articulated this concern in an interview with Re/code in April: “At the end of the day we don’t want to end up as the handset business.”

Toyota’s partners said their system prevents this. Scout GPS, the navigation system from Telenav, which is worth around $280 million, embeds the mobile app into a multimedia display inside the car, which includes voice controls. And UIEvolution, a Kirkland, Wash.-based auto tech company, provides the software behind real-time navigation and traffic data.

A key distinction of their offering is that the platform isn’t simply the driver’s phone ported to the dashboard, said Chris Ruff, CEO of UIEvolution. “The car needs to be its own unique experience, and not an extension of the smartphone,” he said.

These alternative dashboard tools aren’t mutually exclusive from deals with the mobile companies, however. Telenav also partners with General Motors and Ford. At the Code Conference in May, GM announced it was bringing Android Auto and CarPlay to more of its vehicle brands, starting with Chevrolet. Yet Chevrolet also runs its own in-house navigation system, separate from Android Auto.

At the onset, Toyota is only bringing the system to a handful of vehicles, including the Tacoma truck. The company declined to comment on future models or any future integrations with Android Auto or CarPlay.

Yesterday, Volkswagen announced plans to integrate Android Auto and CarPlay into its 2016 line-up, becoming the 35th manufacturer to sign up with Google.

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