Mazda’s Eunos Cosmo was a car of many firsts, one of which was the world’s first in-car GPS system over three decades ago. The so-called CCS (Car Communication System) was developed by Mitsubishi Electric, a trailblazer in car-based nav systems. Last month, however, the company quietly announced it would be leaving the automotive GPS business altogether.
In the 1980s, Mitsubishi Electric (a different entity than Mitsubishi Motors) began exploring satellite-based navigation systems after studying their use in Antarctic expeditions. Partnering with Zenrin, a Japanese tourist map publisher who was in the process of digitizing its maps, they created the Cosmo’s CCS system launched with the car’s debut in April 1990. At the peak of the Bubble Era Japan’s car buyers would gladly shell out big bucks for outrageous technology.
The system was so groundbreaking that Mazda made CCS-equipped cars their own trim level. In addition to nav, the system also controlled a carphone and could be used as an NTSC television. The difference between a Cosmo Type E and a Cosmo Type E CCS was ¥650,000, or a little over $4,000 in 1990. With the cost of a Cosmo Type E stickering at ¥4.65 million, that worked out to about 14 percent of the car’s price.
In practice the CCS was downright primitive compared to the apps found in a common smartphone today. Streets were slow to render, only a bird’s eye 2D view was possible, and the vehicle’s location marker had an accuracy of just ±50 meters. Resolution was also limited as the system used a cathode ray tube, the same tech from your grandma’s Magnavox. But it was a touchscreen(!) and still beat trying to handle a folded paper map while whipping around in your triple-rotor GT.
As anyone who has traveled in Japan knows, its streets can be incredibly confusing to get around on. Unlike in the US where even the shortest lane has an identifier, many streets in Japan’s large cities are unnamed. Even seasoned travelers can easily get turned around and have to ask for directions. A guide that can steer you towards the correct intersections can be invaluable.
As such, GPS systems soon caught on like wildfire, and Mitsubishi Electric became a major OEM supplier. Eventually they began to merge their nav systems with their Diatone-branded audio equipment, known for their outstanding sound quality, and the results received high acclaim.
But now, with the takeover of smartphone navigation apps complete, hard-wired GPS systems in cars are essentially redundant. That’s why Mitsubishi Electric is ceding the market to Panasonic and Pioneer. Incidentally, the latter created the first aftermarket GPS system, the Carrozzeria AVIC-1, in June 1990, two months after the Cosmo was released. Mitsubishi Electric will still continue to supply other automotive components such as power steering units, but it’s closing the chapter on a pivotal technology that it pioneered 33 years ago.