Sony-Honda Venture plans to develop entertainment expertise for its electric cars

Sony and Honda plan to use music, movies and the PlayStation 5 to take on Tesla and the rest of the automotive industry by creating an electric car built around a premium entertainment experience.

The heads of Sony Honda Mobility, which was launched in September and has yet to decide on a brand name, told the Financial Times that the company plans to gain a competitive advantage by capitalizing on Sony’s strong position in the global entertainment industry.

“Sony provides content, services and entertainment technology that move people. We’re adapting these assets for mobility, and that’s our strength over Tesla,” said President Izumi Kawanishi, who led Sony’s AI robotics business.

“Tesla doesn’t offer any content services,” he said, adding that integrating the PlayStation 5 platform into their cars is “technically possible.”

Yasuhide Mizuno, chairman of the joint venture and in charge of Honda’s auto division, said the company is even adjusting the auto production process to put content first.

Rather than plugging in software after a car is produced, “we’re going to develop a car as hardware that does justice to the entertainment and networking that we want to offer,” Mizuno said. He said the company plans to launch its first electric vehicle model in North America by 2025.

Izumi Kawanishi and Yasuhide Mizuno shake hands
Izumi Kawanishi (left) and Yasuhide Mizuno (right) focus on perfecting a self-driving car © Sony Honda Mobility

The joint venture bosses’ comments show how companies are working to adapt to changing consumer preferences for cars.

In addition to trying to give Tesla an entertainment-based challenge, the Sony-Honda car will also compete with similarly software-focused vehicles from Google and Apple.

But Kawanishi said the joint venture will also focus on perfecting a fully self-driving car — a goal that some mobility companies, including Uber and Google, have either abandoned or significantly pushed back as challenges and costs have risen.

Argo AI, a self-driving vehicle group backed jointly by Ford and Volkswagen, announced last month it would cease operations, saying profitability was “a long way off”.

“To enjoy the space in your car, you need to make it a space you don’t have to drive in. The solution to this is autonomous driving,” says Kawanishi, an engineer who developed the PlayStation 3 and the robotic dog Aibo at Sony.

“Autonomous driving needs to evolve significantly from where it is to this point, and it will take time for that to happen,” he added, saying the company is ultimately aiming for full driverless autonomy.

Some analysts believe the Sony-Honda joint venture’s big ambitions hide simpler business goals: Using the car as a showcase for technologies and software platforms that other global automakers might want to build into their vehicles.

For Sony, “part of the goal is to sell more components, including sensors, to help the consumer electronics industry get a foothold in the auto industry,” said Christopher Richter, an analyst at CLSA.

“Tesla hasn’t been able to fully achieve that, and the JV has done it much faster than Apple’s [EV] Project Titan, still languishing somewhere.”

The electronics group wants to show what it can do by developing a small-scale premium brand with Honda, Richter added.

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