When confronted with the capabilities of a “connected car”, many motorists find themselves asking: “Will I still be the one controlling it?” As they survey the host of technologies promising to enhance their vehicles, car manufacturers may be tempted to ask themselves a similar question. And at least to begin with, they may not like the answer.
Connections for all
The connected car is arriving extremely quickly, its acceleration fuelled by the fact that it offers so many benefits to so many different parties. Consumers can feed their appetite for constant connectivity, interfacing via voice, email and apps, as their smartphone plugs into their vehicle to deliver a wholly personalised driving experience; urban planners and local governments benefit from smart mobility and reduced congestion; safety campaigners are promised huge reductions in traffic accidents; green campaigners get cuts in CO2 emissions through smoother traffic flows; insurance providers and rental services get to tailor their offerings and roll out new pay-per-use models.
Who owns the connection?
As more and more services look to ride along in their vehicles, manufacturers have adopted a dual strategy towards the technology involved: on the one hand they are looking to develop their own, bespoke solutions that promise to keep them in control of the in-car environment and offer the promise of differentiation and monetisation in the future; on the other, they are partnering with smartphone manufacturers and mobile operators to develop collaborative platforms and deliver consumer-centred connected car services in the here and now. Google’s Open Automotive Alliance aimed at establishing a common platform for Android integration with connected cars is the latest example. Manufacturers want a foot in both camps in part because it is far from clear which business model will emerge triumphant, in part because they simply do not want to give up control of their vehicles to technology companies who may not share their vision of the connected car.
In praise of open platforms
In my view, manufacturers and the auto industry as a whole need to stop hedging their bets in this way – and throw their weight behind the search for a genuinely open, genuinely collaborative technology platform that is owned and accessed by all. The connected car faces many challenges in the form of safety and privacy concerns, insurance market implications and government regulation; but the greatest threat to its potential is the prospect of different industries and players failing to forge a common solution – and condemning drivers to cars that only connect with the systems of specific partner companies.
Connected cars can be smarter, seamless and safer; but above all they must be social. It is the ability of vehicles to connect to one another that supports every other aspect of their potential. Cars that can communicate using a common technological standard have far more sources of data available to them to help guide their drivers and keep them safe, than those that can only use their own bespoke channels. Manufacturers should focus on forging the strategic partnerships that can enable this data sharing – because that is where the single biggest opportunity lies for their businesses.
Let Big Data drive
Rather than attempting to generate incremental revenues through costly in-house connected car services, manufacturers should focus on the data that is generated whenever vehicles share information – and the opportunities that result. They stand on the threshold of a motoring age when individual car components are able to communicate levels of wear and tear via the web, enabling remote diagnostics, preventative alerts, more efficient servicing and significantly improved customer loyalty. Their relationship with customers is able to take on new dimensions with geo-location guiding them towards offering exactly the right service at the right time. And with a flood of data showing exactly how individuals drive, product development can deliver the precise features and designs that key customer segments need.
If cars are to become drivers of big data, then auto research also needs to take a new turn. Research agencies must recognise that their survey data is being rapidly superseded by real-time observation of driver behaviour. They must respond by taking up the challenge, guiding manufacturers through the flood of real-time information and developing the analytics that will bring the most significant and most meaningful insights to the surface. Only then can they help manufacturers to navigate the very real opportunities that connected cars represent.
NEW: Download a white paper by Rémy Pothet on the Connected Car
Rémy Pothet explains why manufacturers need to stop hedging their bets and throw their weight behind the search for a genuinely open and collaborative technology platform that is owned and accessed by all. Click here to download.