The Coming Battle Over the Car Cockpit

If cars do become the next smartphone—a full-blown information and entertainment system but on wheels— Samsung Electronics Co. may have a leg up on its competitors.

Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, was a relative nobody in the auto industry until it announced an $8 billion deal two years ago to acquire Harman International Industries Inc., a U.S.-based automotive-technology manufacturer.

Now, paired up with Harman, the South Korean technology giant is one of the biggest players in the market for the top-of-the-line “infotainment” systems that are in cars today. Its plan is to create a “digital cockpit”—a high-tech revamp of a car’s dashboard designed for an ultra-connected vehicle, with a bank of screens from one side of the car to the other.