Michael Mauser

Michael Mauser

One key topic of focus at this year's consumer electronics show (CES) was the future of the automotive user experience. With the approach of autonomous vehicles, consumers are demanding more advanced cabin technology to occupy what is set to become 'free time' at the wheel. Harman claims that audio and acoustics will have a significant influence on the in-car experience and should be a priority for OEMs looking to attract next-generation buyers. Harman's executive vice president and president of the lifestyle audio division, Michael Mauser, explains.

Connected and self-driving were buzz words heard at CES 2017, but what do you see this meaning for the in-car audio experience?

Today's consumer is all about high tech experience and convenience. Consumers are expecting more advanced in-car technology that is seamlessly and effortlessly integrating their home lives and time on the move.

In the automotive sector, I believe that we are currently at an inflexion point. I think we've hit a juncture in the industry's timeline when in-car passenger experience is just as important to consumers as the vehicle´s performance and speed. These factors have typically been most influential in the buying stakes but that's no longer the case. Autonomous features and the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles is reinventing the way people spend time in their cars and how they are hoping to spend their time when the proposed technology becomes a reality.

This is opening a vast range of opportunities for automakers to improve the in-car experience to attract future customers. Audio and acoustics innovation will play an important part in driving this forward and Harman is ideally positioned to support the development of a highly differentiated automotive cabin.

Our focus is on elevating the connected world, providing consumers with personalised, intelligent and intuitive solutions as and when they need it, whether that is at home, at work or on the move.

An overhaul of the car cabin presents a great opportunity for us as a business, in the audio divisions and beyond, and we're working extremely hard to develop technologies that will resonate with future buyers.

Why will audio have such an important role?

We foresee the in-car audio experience being much more than just listening to music in autonomous vehicles. As expected, premium audio will help provide great quality entertainment and comfort for consumers – after all, the car is still the place where people listen to music the most – but it will also help to provide an intelligent and personalised experience that is so appealing today, and expected to become the norm in the future.

For example, Summit Next, debuting at CES, is a suite of innovative car audio technologies that delivers the ultimate personalised experience and is an example of what we can expect next from car audio.

So what can we expect from Summit Next?

Summit Next is the latest evolution of our innovative audio platform aimed at the luxury vehicle segment. It provides a best in class, ultra-premium, personalised listening experience that delivers proprietary Harman DSP-based technologies such as Individual Sound Zones, QuantumLogic Immersive 3D Surround Sound, Clari-Fi, the HALOsonic suite of Sound Management Solutions and Virtual Venues, which replicates the acoustic design and qualities of famous venues in a vehicle, as seen in the Volvo XC90.

In addition, the platform incorporates new entertainment and productivity technologies that will be particularly desirable in the autonomous car space. For example, with Ambisonics Escape we can now take the driver out of a stressful traffic jam and transport them to a beach, forest or waterfall, recreating those natural surroundings in the car through a 360° sound field and video experience, making the cabin a place of calm and tranquillity.

Summit Next also incorporates in-car theatre, what we believe to be the most theatre-like viewing experience ever achieved in a vehicle.  It combines Harman's QuantumLogic Immersion professional movie theatre audio processing with video, bringing passengers closer to a real movie experience than ever before.

For me, and I'm sure many others, productivity is very important while on the road and Summit Next in-car conferencing technology is set to support this by transforming calls through matching conference audio with video locations of participants, giving the sensation of being in a real meeting room.

We think it is all about pushing the boundaries and taking the driving experience one step further. It also looks ahead to audio experiences in the longer term: the system is the world's first truly future proof car audio solution as it is enabled for Over the Air (OTA) updates, so features can be expanded throughout the full lifecycle of the car as new developments are introduced.

For us, it's all about engagement and delivering an immersive, personalised experience to passengers. Our audio technology can then be complemented by developments in our other divisions to make real leaps and bounds for the in-car experience.

At CES our connected car division showed a full windshield head-up display in the Rinspeed Oasis concept car that projects navigation or can be used for entertainment purposes. Together, the audio and the visual can make a real impact.  

When can we expect to see this technology in a production car?

Summit Next is the evolution of our highly innovative Summit car audio platform which we launched at CES 2016. It has been in development for several years and the majority of Summit features are ready to implement now. This 'Pinnacle of Car Audio Perfection' is such an attractive differentiator for our automotive customers that we have already won several car audio awards launching in next vehicle generations.

It has been well documented that millennials are fuelling the 'experience economy' that this technology fulfils, but will they be willing to purchase the high-end luxury vehicles featuring these capabilities?

Ultimately cars equate to freedom – freedom of choice and freedom of movement. Owning or having access to a vehicle is still desirable, and even more so when offering such an in-car experience, so I don't believe that the millennial audience will boycott the car. However, we, of course, acknowledge that not everyone will be able to afford a vehicle in the luxury segment. We want to make this experience accessible to all and so also launched the Voyager Next at CES.

This is the latest generation of our consumer audio platform for small and entry-level vehicles. It's the first all-in-one audio and connected car head unit solution featuring most innovative loudspeaker and subwoofer technologies and architectures combined with best in class Audio DSP algorithms for great audio quality. And for today's 'on-the-go' lifestyle, it has a sub that can be popped in and out of the boot to make the music portable.

It's a solution that automakers are finding particularly interesting as it allows them to offer a premium audio experience in a cost-effective and easy to implement way, making their vehicles more desirable to this consumer audience.

Samsung's acquisition of Harman's connected car business has been big in the headlines, but audio must have played a role too?

Yes, of course, Harman's lifestyle audio division and all its divisions were greatly influential in the decision. Harman's portfolio of businesses is hugely complementary.  Harman's audio business is a natural for synergies.  The connected services division is in a class of its on developing state of the art technologies complementary to Samsung, as is our professional services division which is all about audio in entertainment and enterprise spaces.     

Do you foresee developments in the autonomous car being the most significant driver of business growth for the company's audio division moving forward?

The automotive sector as a whole is an important area of growth for us. We are very proud to produce high-quality, high-fidelity, digitally-integrated premium audio for the industry and our growth will be determined by many factors but principally based on our ability to maintain a competitive technological advantage by staying ahead of the curve and continuing to innovate. The automotive industry is revolutionising with autonomous driving and we will continue to reinvent the audio experience to complement this. Through our brands we have a strong portfolio of global customers that believe in our products, such as BMW, Audi, Ford, Toyota, FCA, Hyundai/KIA, Ferrari, Aston Martin and many others. The audio developments around autonomous cars present opportunities to work closer with our existing partners and open new discussions with prospects so we can look to reshape how consumers interact with their vehicles in the future and attract the next generation of drivers.

See also Global light vehicle instrumentation and cockpits market - forecasts to 2031