The 2014 iBeetle, scheduled to be unveiled at this weekend’s Shanghai auto show, was designed by Volkswagen in collaboration with Apple to provide drivers with a new level of connectivity between car and smartphone. The iBeetle is designed to allow drivers to “listen to music, navigate, make hands-free calls and even monitor the car’s engine functions.” A custom “Beetle app has options that include use of Spotify, a program that reads social media, and creates digital postcards based on the car’s location. The car itself will even come in complementary iPhone color schemes!
Designing a car around a specific phone brand seems to mark a new step in the marriage between the auto industry and technology. Apple seems to be an especially appropriate partner for such a venture, given their significant market share and automotive-like business model. Much like car companies, Apple releases a new model of several of its products (most notably the iPhone) each year. As accusations and even lawsuits of planned obsolescence continue to mount against Apple, it seems they continue to hold back some of the technology that could be incorporated into a current year’s model to increase incentive to buy next year’s model. This new level of smartphone integration could also mark a new market strategy for auto producers. The iBeetle appeals to buyer’s brand loyalty to Apple, and is another form of connectivity to the company’s software in addition to Macs, iPads, iPods, and iPhones. With the company continuing to upgrade its software yearly, the iBeetle could easily become obsolete in another year or two, and require the purchase of a new iBeetle that is compatible with the new technology. Some of these car owners may upgrade their car each year to match the new technologies, just like many buy the new iPhone each year.
The upgrades between a specific car model year-to-year are often relatively minor, while technology seems to be growing at a much faster rate. Using technology as a car’s main selling point is a strategy that can either reap huge rewards for car producers by following a business model similar to Apple’s or will backfire and cause cars to be outdated technologically as soon as they are released as consumers choose to leave them sitting on dealer’s lots.