On the road to Embedded World, a naïve American discovers an auto industry dark horse.

On my way to Embedded World in Germany, I stopped off in France to visit a key automotive customer. Although it was not always the case, I’ve learned to love Paris. More importantly, I’ve developed a healthy respect for Parisians. They suffer millions of uncouth and naïve visitors who bulldoze through their beloved city like Kanye West at a Taylor Swift fan club meeting. I have to admit, I’m sympathetic and impressed that the Paris locals maintain their sense of dignity, style and high standards for cuisine, fashion and service. (Yes, I said service. I know, conventional reputation dictates otherwise, but they really do take care of tourists.)

With the aforementioned niceties in mind, I’m willing to forgive the Parisian’s infamous yet predictable scam of taking unprepared and language-challenged Americans for expensive and circuitous taxi rides. I used to get angry about this, but now I simply chuckle and accept it as a cost of doing business in Paris. On this stop over I expected the usual annoying treatment as I hopped into a taxi at Charles de Gaulle. But this time it was different. As I mumbled the address of my destination, the driver punched it directly into his in-car navigation system. “Aha!” I thought. No more confused and seemingly random joy rides through the city of lights and croissants. Saved by technology!

An hour later and three spins around the Arc de Triomphe, I discovered how misplaced my hope was.

It turns out the driver had entered the right numbers and street name, but used Boulevard instead of Rue. Hmmm…. This subtle difference took us to the opposite side of town. Once he discovered the error, he cursed the electronic villain, pulled out a paper map and eventually found the right location. A mere 70 Euro later (about $95 US), I arrived at my destination. Although a bit painful, this transgression seemed much more civilized. It wasn’t the driver’s fault. He wasn’t trying to bamboozle the American tourist.  He wasn’t inept or dishonest.  It was the electronic navigation system – the faceless, nameless, English speaking nav system. I felt better than usual. It felt less personal. He was very apologetic – but not enough to charge me the lower fare that my trip should have cost. Technology saves international relations again. Viva la electronic scapegoat!

But back to the automotive customer in Paris…

Besides not knowing the language, most Americans also naively dismiss the French auto industry. This is a mistake. Renault-Nissan and PSA Peugeot Citroën are quietly gaining ground in Europe and around the world. Solid mechanics, impressive design, sophisticated electronics and cool, cutting edge screen-based cockpits that are world class — without the overpriced arrogance found in other better known European offerings. (I won’t mention names.) Keep an eye out for the French. Besides tourism, architecture, cuisine and fashion, the French are passionate about cars and they want to build the best. As one of those naïve Americans in Paris, I know taxi drivers will always “take me for a ride”.  But as a participant in the auto industry’s computer-based, screen-based driver user interface growth spurt, I’ll take a ride along with the French anytime. They are a dark horse that is quietly, but surely, gaining ground on their unsuspecting competitors. And beyond design and mechanics, their embedded system prowess is world class. I say this even as I’m off to the center the universe for cars and embedded technology – Germany.

See you in Nuremberg!