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Munic: Vive le OBDII!

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 28, 2020

For years, my friends in the OBDII business have been telling me that business is very good. I want to believe them and I want to support them, but I am looking at a pile of six of these devices sitting on my desk gathering dust because I haven't sufficient interest and they haven't delivered sufficient value for me to keep them installed in my car(s).

The OBDII market is both large and small. It is both profitable and unprofitable. It is growing rapidly, but upon a tiny base. Some companies are finding huge success, while others are failing miserably.

Munic (formerly Mobile Devices) is calling attention to this conundrum with a public offering the proceeds of which are intended to propel the company forward in this potentially profitable corner of the connected car industry. What Munic is trying to overcome is the impression that the OBDII business (built upon devices that plug into regular automobile on-board diagnostic ports) is somehow moribund and a relic of a bygone age.

Part of the problem is bad information. Much of the most misleading information comes from German auto makers that are working hard to eliminate the port altogether. For these auto makers, the OBDII port is not only a cybersecurity vulnerability but also a privacy risk.

Originally added to vehicles to fulfill emissions testing requirements, the OBDII port is present on all internal combustion vehicles manufactured for Japan, North America, Europe and other major vehicle markets around the world. The port allows a device to be plugged to extract operating data from the vehicle either for testing or diagnostic purposes.

There are some who would have you believe that the onset of electric vehicles will eliminate the need for the OBDII. It's worth noting, though, that even EVs from Tesla Motors have OBDII ports.

The onset of cars with built-in wireless connections introduced the concept of extracting data from cars in real time, not just during emissions tests. This possibility, then, of connecting a wireless device to the OBDII port - either via Bluetooth to smartphone connection or a wireless modem - raised the prospect of tracking and monitoring vehicles for insurance and fleet-related applications along with vehicle performance data.

The prospect of a relatively inexpensive device extracting vehicle data in real time touched off a gold rush of companies with both Bluetooth-based and cellular solutions to collect data from cars for applications ranging from insurance, to anti-theft, to diagnostics, to Wi-Fi, to e-commerce, to simple tracking. The concept made great sense for fleets using normal passenger cars - but some companies saw a massive direct-to-consumer opportunity and dove in.

As data from cars itself emerged as a standalone business, OBDII purveyors pivoted to so-called "data monetization" extracting value from vehicle data regardless of its source - OBDII or otherwise. Companies like Moj.io made this pivot, and Munic suggested a similar data platform path with the simultaneous announcement of its EKKO data platform. Moj.io and Munic are partners.

Munic is playing the OBDII market from a number of angles reflected in its current customer base which includes pay-as-you-drive insurance company MetroMile, tire maker Michelin, wireless carrier T-Mobile, and rental car company Avis - among dozens of other customers. The strength of Munic's IPO is built upon long-term commitments from these and other clients for both devices and subscription services expected to increase Munic's revenue from €17M in 2019 to €100M in 2023.

Worldwide annual shipments of OBDII devices remains in the single-digit millions of units. But that apparent "smallness" obscures the market potential for companies capable of building subscription-based service revenue streams serving small and medium-sized fleets. Even auto makers including Honda, Volkswagen, and Ford Motor Company have explored aftermarket OBDII offerings with varied success - Volkswagen, in particular, has mounted OBDII devices in hundreds of thousands of its cars on corporate leases mainly in Europe.

While wireless carriers such as Telefonica, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint continue to pursue consumer-targeted applications - mainly revolving around tracking applications and vehicle-mounted Wi-Fi - the B2B market segment continues to provide a rich vein of demand - though it has driven fairly limited volumes of device sales. Still, insurance companies, which remain ambivalent regarding OBDII devices for tracking and usage-based insurance applications, cannot escape the low cost and simplicity of the OBDII-based insurance offering of companies such as Progressive.

Companies like Munic, and its OBDII brethren Danlaw and Voyomotive, continue to mine profitable pockets of demand in the connected car aftermarket in spite of limited six-figure sales volumes. The profitable business models these companies have been able to carve out by focusing on fleets and usage-based insurance are enough to preserve and extend interest in the OBDII market.

But, above all, the flame that draws so many corporate moths to the OBDII aftermarket flame is the hundreds of millions of cars around the world already equipped with OBDII ports. That target market, which is growing by the day, is the gleaming brass ring that continues to attract consumer focused devices offered in retail stores. The reality is that the OBDII market can be a profitable niche for operators with the right business model. Munic may well be one of those operators. Vive le OBDII! Vive le Munic!

 
 
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