Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

CCE: Getting Back to Blue Button Basics

by Roger Lanctot | 11月 16, 2015

The biggest question facing the Connected Car Expo (opening Tuesday) this week – part of the Los Angeles Auto Show – is determining precisely what a connected car is. I am participating on a panel of experts that will be parsing this concept and others.

It’s worth noting that the CCE is pondering changing the name of the growing three-year-old event to something more appropriate and inclusive – but for me Connected Car Expo captures the ethos pretty effectively.

It’s no wonder a name change is under consideration given the confusion among car makers, consumers, dealers and regulators regarding what constitutes a connected car. Twenty years ago the answer to that question would have been easy: A connected car is a vehicle from General Motors equipped with OnStar.

Suddenly the Internet of Things and Big Data have crept into the conversation - but the bigger tent has done little to expand consumer interest.  The result has been Big Confusion.

If the normal course of competitive technology adoption and evolution had held true, competing car companies would have adopted OnStar’s model while attempting to find ways to refine or enhance it. In fact, several car makers, including Audi and Toyota, licensed OnStar directly before GM reconsidered that strategy, deciding instead that OnStar was a core differentiating value proposition solely for GM.

The core original connected car values of OnStar remain unmatched to this day. OnStar enabled stolen vehicle tracking, automatic crash notification and hands-free phone calls (called Personal Minutes and purchased directly from GM). The automatic crash notification function was revolutionary as were the personal minutes.

Equally important was the fact that GM had set itself up as a mobile virtual network operator. GM was buying and selling network access as it does to this day – now selling Wi-Fi data minutes.

Instead of following GM’s lead, competing car companies immediately began taking divergent paths to vehicle connectivity. Some preserved the automatic crash notification offering, some offered stolen vehicle tracking, most offered remote functions like remote start and remote door unlock – but no competitor offered personal minutes or set up the MVNO infrastructure.

The result of this divergence and fragmentation has undermined the meaning of vehicle connectivity and the ability to package and sell these services to consumers. At the same time, consumers are increasingly turning to their smartphones for connectivity services making it more difficult to market and sell the built-in connection.

All this is occurring even as built-in connectivity system are adding integration with charging infrastructure, home security and home heating and air conditioning systems, payment services and smartwatches.  Recent Strategy Analytics consumer surveys show that respondents around the world still value stolen vehicle tracking and recovery, emergency crash notification/response and remote door lock/unlock – but not all of these features are universally available on built-in systems.

So here is the quandary. A connected car – with a built-in telecom device or one you can plug in (as in the case of Audi) – may or may not automatically call for emergency assistance in the event of a crash. (Ford uses its SYNC system and a feature called 911 Assist to activate the driver’s connected smartphone to call 911 directly in a crash. This happened to a driver of a car in which I was a passenger last month, but the driver didn’t understand what was happening and terminated the call.)

Built-in connectivity systems from GM/OnStar, Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, Jaguar/Land Rover, BMW, Daimler, and Volvo all offer call center support and automatic crash notification. Companies such as Audi and Tesla are offering built-in (or plugged in) connectivity but no call center for either concierge or crash response service. (All of these services are subscription based – only BMW offers 10 years of free automatic crash response calling and service scheduling.)

The foundational application of the connected car – emergency response to crash scenes – is no longer universally perceived as a core telematics value. Many car makers don’t want to take on the cost and liability (that GM took on for the first time 20 years ago) and many consumers think they can just use their phone – which is true as long as they remember to bring their phone with them, have the phone within reach post-crash, and are conscious after the collision.

The latest value proposition seeing increasingly global adoption and support from car makers is access to Wi-Fi via the embedded modem – which requires a data plan and a means to pay for it. Pricing and availability vary here too, but Wi-Fi as an available element of the built-in connection is being implemented by BMW, Daimler, Audi and a growing roster of other car makers. This approach is occurring in spite of the fact that consumers are likely to prefer using their own smartphone for this purpose too.

The bottom line is it’s time for the industry to get back to basics. It isn’t just the European Union that is mandating eCall for automated emergency calling from crash scenes (commencing with new type approved vehicles from March 2018). The United Nations has prioritized eCall as a global objective in the face of 1.2M annual highway fatalities. Even Russia has stepped up to the eCall challenge by attempting to convince China and India, world leaders in highway slaughter, to adopt ERA-Glonass eCall technology.

Perhaps these principles will help clarify industry logic:

  1. The first objective of connected car technology ought to be to save lives.
  2. The first step in saving lives is responding to crashes – being there for the customer in their most extreme moment of need.
  3. The second step is anticipating and preventing vehicle failures using diagnostics.
  4. The third step is avoiding collisions altogether.

When it comes to connecting cars it’s easy to understand why consumers are confused. Consumers are confused because the industry is confused. Let’s end the confusion and get back to the basic value proposition of saving lives. That’s why we are connecting cars.  Ergo: A connected car will save your life.

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