General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) chief executive Dan Akerson told an audience at the Chief Executives' Club of Boston Thursday that cars are the next great proving ground for communications technology.
Akerson said that in-car technology is what will attract younger, tech-savvy buyers to GM and develop new revenue sources for other automakers. Developing convenient features in vehicles presents an enormous opportunity for car designers, one particular reason being that cars give drivers "far better battery life than an iPhone."
However, his address comes just one day after the Automobile Association of America warned drivers against the use of emerging tech features after their study found numerous dangers with in-car tech.
AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report on Wednesday saying that hands-free technology in cars actually increases driver distraction. The foundation's "Measuring Cognitive Distractions" report urges leaders in the auto industry to disable features that the study's results indicate cause the most distractions. AAA wants automakers to render voice-to-text technologies, social media or interacting with email inoperable for the driver once he or she is operating the vehicle.
Yet GM's chief spoke mostly about the commercial opportunity that automakers can't ignore. He cited J.D. Power data that showed U.S. consumers spend more than 2.5 hours per day on their smartphones and tablets while they only spend about 2.3 hours each day in cars, both as drivers or passengers.
"Marry the two and you have a megatrend that we intend to harness for competitive advantage," said Akerson, who before his role at GM had been an executive at MCI, Nextel and XO Communications.
The J.D. Power data also found that 80 percent of new car buyers say they evaluate whether a car has Internet connectivity when deciding on a brand or model. And those buyers aren't just American. Akerson cited similar studies in China, the world's largest auto market.
According to Akerson, drivers want hands-free calling, navigation and automatic crash warning -- in that order.
"Installing 3G Wi-Fi in vehicles only scratches the surface of what's possible," said Akerson. "How cool would it be to have your car automatically call Dunkin' Donuts when you're a mile away, so your coffee and cruller are ready and paid for when you pull up?"
Akerson, also aware of the dangers, insisted that any features that GM implements will be integrated to prevent distracted driving.