First There Was Nav, Now Car Computers

By Amy Gilroy On Mar 8 2004 - 8:00am

Accessories supplier The Right Connection (TRC) is launching a line of four computer/navigation/DVD players for the car, and putting a new marketing twist on the category.

TRC's new marketing strategy asks why would a customer buy an in-dash DVD/navigation unit when he can get a full function computer with a touch-screen monitor, Internet access plus, DVD player and navigation at a similar price.

According to Robert Montengro, who recently joined TRC as sales and marketing VP and was formerly with SAVV, TRC computers are more cost effective than typical navigation units. "Let's compare it to the navigation systems available from the big three Japanese companies. Now you are up to $2,000 to $2,500 for a navigation system and we're at $2,150 [plus $150 for] navigation, with the ability to store movies, music, perform gaming and full computer functions."

Montengro claims TRC computers offer better ease of operation than typical navigation-only units. The basic model has a 40GB hard drive and can store 2,000 tracks of music or five or six compressed DVD movies, he said.

TRC originally began selling the computers without navigation, but as of this month it is bundling a kit with all the computers for an additional $150 to $200. Montengro explained, "If you tell people it's a computer, they don't know what to do with it. But if you say it's a navigation system and you bundle it with DVD and music and games and Internet, then it makes sense."

The computers can also perform vehicle maintenance and monitoring for items such as oil duration and they can control lighting a car's other environmental controls, said TRC. Down the line, the company hopes to use embedded chips to get the price down on the computer, with a goal of a $999 system.

The TRC line begins with the SYS 1.1 with 1.3 GHz Celeron processor and 256SD RAM, 40GB hard drive and 7-inch touch screen at $2,149. All the machines use Windows XP and offer MP3 audio. They come with USB ports and USB Memory Stick, plus optional Wi-Fi networking. Each computer is available with screens in 7-, 10.4-, 12- and 15-inch sizes. The company said it developed special software so that the computers can be controlled by touch screen without the need for a computer mouse.

The other basic system configurations are a 1.3 GHz Celeron processor with 512 SD RAM and 40GB hard drive; and a Pentium 4 2.4 GHz processor, 512 DDR RAM and 60GB hard drive. The top end system is similar to the last, although it has 1GB DDR RAM.

Until now, no car computer company has been successful. QPC closed its computer division and the Clarion AutoPC failed to gain acceptance. "QPC was way ahead of its time. The software and technology has changed dramatically in the past three years. It's the same with Clarion's AutoPC. It was operating on Windows CE and it was a failure. Timing is part of it, but also, we've written our own software to make this more user-friendly," said Montengro.

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