Mercedes-Benz and Google have struck a long-term partnership designed to give the German automaker control over its IP and marketplace while offering drivers navigation, maps and YouTube provided by the tech giant.
It's an unusual deal that attempts to strike a Goldilocks-type balance between offering the Google services consumers want without ceding control over the entire operating system in the car.
"This is a licensing agreement that is a 'win-win' for both parties," Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius said during a press briefing Wednesday during an event at its research and development center in Sunnyvale, California. "We're the full architects of the stack."
Calling it a licensing agreement is accurate, but perhaps downplays the relationship. The partnership will bring the Google Maps platform, Cloud and YouTube into future Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with the automaker's next-generation operating system called MB.OS. Mercedes will have access to Google's geospatial offering, including detailed information about places, real-time and predictive traffic information and automatic rerouting. Mercedes-Benz will use Google Maps data to enable assisted driving features such as automatic speed adjustments before intersections, roundabouts or curves.
But as Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai noted, the partnership will extend beyond this.
"In addition to enabling Mercedes-Benz to design a customized navigation interface, we'll provide our AI and data capabilities to accelerate their sustainability efforts, advance autonomous driving, and create an enhanced customer experience," Pichai said in a statement.
Mercedes-Benz has been working on its own MB.OS operating system for several years now. That operating system will launch in the next generation of Mercedes vehicles (internally called MMA), which are expected to go into production toward the end of 2024.
Mercedes said it has built the Linux-based system on its own, and designed it in a way that can support third-party apps and services like those provided by Google. For instance, Mercedes said it plans to build its own branded navigation using new in-car geospatial data and navigation capabilities from Google Maps Platform.
However, customers won't have to wait years to experience the first fruits of the partnership. Mercedes said Wednesday that starting today, the automaker will give customers access to initial new features like Place Details, provided by Google. The new feature will be provided via an over-the-air software update.
The precursor to MB.OS will also show up later this year in the new Mercedes E Class. In that system, customers will be able to access apps like Tiktok and Zoom from the car's infotainment system.
The end game is high stakes. Mercedes wants its MB.OS to be so compelling, drivers no longer opt to use middleware products like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which mirrors their smartphones to the car's infotainment system.
"I mean, that's the ultimate goal of MB.OS ultimately, it will create a customer experience so there's no need to plug in your phone," CTO Markus Schäfer said Wednesday at the event.