"It's about mind share," Ramsey said. "If you're buying the car and the thing you like about it the most is the Google interface or the Apple interface, it diminishes your ability to differentiate yourself from every other car."
Automakers already have ceded certain entertainment and information by putting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into their cars. Voice control is a more existential threat because the highest and best use would be to allow the driver to control everything in the car through an internet-connected assistant that could also be used to download Starbucks coupons or pay parking tickets online -- or an infinity of other choices.
Can the automakers compete, or will they submit to tech company domination of the in-car experience?
It's a tall order, Simoudis said. Automaker product cycles run seven years. Digital services move at internet speed.
Automakers are trying to become a lot more flexible about technology partnerships, especially in autonomous vehicle technology.
"Because of the huge amount of new technology coming, the R&D costs are going to go up," Carlos Ghosn, Nissan chairman, recently told Automotive News. "We need to have a much more serious conversation about what work should be done outside the company."
Garmin, the navigation system company, develops infotainment "head units" for automakers. (That's the center-dash computer screen with the electronics behind it.) Garmin is about to release a system that uses Alexa to communicate directly with a head unit. "That goes far beyond what's out there now," said Garmin product manager Kip Dondlinger.
Gartner's Ramsey is expecting some even bigger voice recognition announcements over the next six months from the big tech companies. Deals with the tech giants so far have not been exclusive, and they're not likely to be until the market starts sorting itself out.
"There are a lot of different voice systems giving the client options," said Denise Barfuss, a senior manager at automaker Infiniti.
But at some point, customers will begin to demand a seamless, universal voice experience in the car -- and most analysts are giving the edge to the big tech companies.
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