Google Deepens Partnerships With Carmakers to Boost its Lagging Cloud Business

Carmakers make up a growing segment of Google's cloud business, whose market share lags behind Amazon and Microsoft.

Google infotainment
Google maps and applications built into a Volvo. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Google (GOOGL) has always been interested in making cars, dating to its self-driving project launched in 2009. But, with little success in building an actual vehicle, its automobile ambitions now focus on partnerships with legacy carmakers.

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Google is lending them expertise in cloud software and artificial intelligence to build “connected cars,” or cars that can maintain real-time communication and data-sharing with outside systems during movement. Google’s deepening involvement in the auto industry may also boost its cloud business, which has lagged behind Amazon and Microsoft.

On Feb. 22, Google announced a long-term partnership with Mercedes-Benz to embed some of its navigation and entertainment features, including Google Maps and YouTube, into the German carmaker’s upcoming operating system.

The deal will give Mercedes access to Google Maps’ “Place Details” data, providing drivers with details of restaurants and businesses nearby, real-time and predictive traffic information, and automatic rerouting. Unlike using Google Maps navigation on a smartphone while driving, a Mercedes car embedded with the feature will use Google Maps data to improve the car’s assisted driving functions, such as automatic speed adjustments before intersections, roundabouts and curves.

Mercedes is Google’s third new auto customer in three months. The internet giant signed similar deals with Volvo in January and French carmaker Renault Group in November.

Google provides key technologies for building the cars of tomorrow

So far, Google’s reach in the auto industry largely focuses on entertainment- and connectivity-related features. In that regard, it’s really competing with Apple’s CarPlay platform, which allows drivers to connect their iPhones to in-car displays, said Om Malik, a venture capitalist and a tech writer. “In many ways it is iOS vs Android,” he said in an email.

But Google’s ambition goes beyond that. In the Renault partnership, for example, Google has been working with the carmaker since 2018 to integrate its Android operating system into Renault’s in-car media displays. In the future, Google will provide technologies that enable remote troubleshooting, software updates and service customizations in Renault cars—an increasingly standard offering in new electric cars.

“Many people talk about modern cars kind of like smartphones on wheels,” Mercedes CEO Ola Källenius said in June 2020 when announcing a partnership with chipmaker Nvidia to develop an in-house operating system. “If you want to take that approach, you really have to look at software architecture from a holistic point of view.”

Embedding Google Maps and YouTube is only the first step. In the future, Mercedes and Google plan to explore further collaboration using Google Cloud’s A.I. and data capabilities to develop new products, the two companies said in yesterday’s announcement.

Carmakers make up a growing segment of Google’s cloud business, which provides the infrastructure of many connectivity capabilities promised in these deals. Google’s other clients include Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Kia, according to Google Cloud’s website.

Google Cloud lags behind Amazon’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure in market share. As of the end of 2022, Google claimed about 11 percent of the global cloud infrastructure service, while AWS owned 34 percent and Azure 23 percent, according to Synergy Research Group.

Google’s attempt at making cars started in 2009 with its Self-Driving Project. The unit was eventually spun off in 2016 as an independent company called Waymo to focus on developing self-driving softwares, not actual cars.

Google Deepens Partnerships With Carmakers to Boost its Lagging Cloud Business