Thursday, July 12, 2018

So which U.S. automaker might be getting ready to make motorcycles with enhanced location-based services?

Dodge Tomahawk concept motorcycle.
Dodge Tomahawk concept motorcycle. Photo: Elambeth (posted to
Wikimedia Commons).
Yesterday, a technology company called Comtech Telecommunications Corp issued a press release boasting about a new $1.9 million contract with a leading U.S. automotive manufacturer to develop a new navigation product.

What was odd about the press release is that the U.S. automaker involved was not named. But the press release did tease one tidbit: it said that the manufacturer will use Comtech’s navigation product “for two of its top vehicle programs, including motorcycles.”

By referring to a leading U.S. automaker, the announcement almost certainly pertains to one of the Big 3—GM, Ford, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Tesla may also come to mind, but according to a June 6 report by CarAndBike, Elon Musk has categorically denied that Tesla is going into the electric motorcycle business.

A research effort by Auto Enthusiasts Newsblaster did not uncover any reports of leaks or even speculation about which automaker is involved. Confidentiality about under-development projects is nothing unusual in the business world, but in many cases when the project has reached a stage at which a press release is issued it has also reached a stage at which the parties involved can be disclosed.

Let’s first put things into perspective. On the scale of the automotive industry, a $1.9 million contract is not that big of a deal. It really isn’t even a very big deal for Comtech, which, according to MarketWatch, earned over $550 million in revenue last year.

So which leading U.S. automaker is also in the motorcycle business?

The question is more complex than one might initially think. 

For instance, Jalopnik’s Kristen Lee reported in May that Ford “filed a patent for a motorcycle that comes out of a car.” With GM, there activities including trademark registrations have fueled speculation about expansion of the Maven car sharing service to include bicycles and electric motorcycles.

Fiat Chrysler also cannot be ruled out, especially with the many tentacles that Fiat has or has had in various specialized segments of the motor vehicle industry over the years. Chrysler, moreover, way back in 2003 when Daimler was still in the picture, also built a Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle concept.

Of course, if Comtech’s new project ends up producing anything that actually comes to market, the details will emerge over time. But, at this stage, what might be even more interesting to ponder is the question of what, specifically, the automaker involved plans to do with the technology.

Let’s look a little more closely at the language of Comtech’s press release, which quotes President and CEO Fred Kornberg thusly: “It also represents a new stage of growth for our navigation and mapping applications, made possible through our Location Studio platform that has been a leading source of product customization for OEMs across a number of vertical markets.”

If you delve a bit more into Comtech's Location Studio, you find that the platform has functions and applications ranging from fleet management to navigation to geo-fencing. That suggests some interesting possibilities in the ridesharing, smart vehicle, and autonomous spaces—and also, especially with geo-fencing, in the emerging concept of autonomous vehicle as marketing platform that we have previously reported on.

Again, $1.9 million isn’t that big of a contract in this industry. But this one might be worth keeping an eye on to see just what could take shape.

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