Amazon Shows Off Big Automotive Ambitions for Alexa at CES

Amazon announced a slew of partnerships and developments aimed at breaking Alexa out of the home and into the automotive realm.
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Amazon is aiming to make Alexa your ever-present road companion.

At the CES showcase, Amazon is revealing plans to get Alexa into more personal vehicles, including new partnerships and software updates. Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report shares closed 1.49% higher to $1,902.88 on Monday.

The tech giant said at CES, which kicked off this week, that the ultra-luxe Laborghini Huracan Evo will come equipped with Alexa, as well as forthcoming electric trucks and SUVs from Rivian, an EV startup that Amazon invested in last year. The latter vehicles, called the R1S SUV and R1T pickup, are due to roll out by the end of this year.

Lamborghini and Rivian are the latest in a growing slate of partnerships designed to get Alexa, which powers Amazon’s popular Echo smart speakers, out of the home and into new domains like personal vehicles. Alexa will also be available in other car brands -- General Motors (GM) - Get Report, for example, said last year that it will integrate Alexa into the infotainment systems of newer Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles. In total, Amazon says that dozens of vehicles now include Alexa in some form or fashion. 

“Car manufacturers haven’t been very good at keeping up with technology...so to keep consumers happy, it makes sense to play with Amazon,” said Doug Robinson, CEO of the voice AI consultancy Fresh Digital.

Other businesses within the automotive ecosystem have gotten on board with Alexa, too. Nationwide Insurance, for example, built an Alexa skill and also told customers in September that it plans to give away one million Echo Autos. And, according to Robinson, cars make for a natural use case for voice technology in part because consumers are already accustomed to using voice for driving-related tasks like navigation.

“It makes sense from a safety standpoint, and secondly for the experience,” he added.

Amazon made a few other announcements at CES related to its auto ambitions: It will expand Echo Auto to include international markets, make it possible for Alexa users to pay for gas using the assistant at 11,500 Exxon Mobil (XOM) - Get Report stations, and also integrate Amazon Fire TV into BMW and Fiat Chrysler models.

For signs of where Amazon might be headed next when it comes to Alexa in cars, developments with its Alexa Auto SDK (software development kit) are a good place to look. Amazon is also updating that SDK to boost integration with third-party navigation software, among other enhancements, and is adding various integrations with AWS intended to facilitate in-car applications and development of autonomous capabilities.   which are aimed at helping car manufacturers and others implement in-vehicle applications . The software enhancements are aimed at "making it even easier for automakers to add voice-first navigation experiences to upcoming vehicles," Amazon wrote in a press release. 

“That’s going to be very interesting, and also how they’ll be able to start integrating the AWS piece for cloud stuff: How do we get better at understanding all of that data?” added Robinson.