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My last post introduced my perspective and the topics we’ll be exploring in this series.  So let’s get to it. I’ll start by recalling the recent “snowmageddon” event in New York that wasn’t.  Connecting our cars with the Internet of Things is kind of like that – we all know it’s coming, and we know it’s going to be big.  But we don’t know when it’s coming exactly, and the more specifically we try to forecast how big, the more likely we are to be wrong.  Your guess is as good – maybe better – than mine, but I’m sure it’s different.  For some great thoughts, see Joe Barkai’s post on “2015 Connected Car Predictions”: http://scn.sap.com/community/automotive/blog/2015/02/03/2015-connected-cars-predictions

Proponents of Google’s and others’ work on autonomous vehicles would suggest it’s close.  Analytical assessment of the current replacement cycle of vehicles on the road yield estimates that it could be mid-century before the entire fleet of vehicles on the road is fully connected.  Somewhere in between is critical mass, an automotive “singularity” if you will.  But what will that mean?

First and foremost, it must mean value to the owner/driver.  I’ve been talking to industry about this topic since I was in the CRM business circa 2000…. And even then it was all too easy to focus on how cool it would be to present the driver “relevant” marketing messages while they’re driving and provide opportunities for refueling or getting a bite to eat.  That’s all great, but it’s also invasive and permission based, and for the driver to accept such there needs to be a quid pro quo, for example providing free bandwidth for other, more welcome intrusions.  And remember, the driver does have a choice.  There’s very little I’ve seen offered outside of proactive maintenance via the connected car where a smartphone with the right set of apps can offer equally well.

That’s not to say that there’s not value to the driver in receiving targeted advertising and sharing data about their driving patterns, when coupled with in-vehicle voice technologies and connected to maintenance indicators, a connected vehicle has a unique opportunity to offer convenience, enjoyment and safety to the driver that a smart device can’t match.  But someone must be prepared to pay for the incremental cost in components, maintenance, and connectivity.  It’s hard to argue that the consumer will foot that bill.

So what is the maintenance aspect?  Plenty, and already well along.  Users of OnStar, and other manufacturer’s connected products, can already receive regular vehicle health reports that provide recommendations on major vehicle systems and scheduled maintenance within the vehicle and remotely.  That’s good, but there’s opportunity for more.  Like:

  • What if sensors on lower level systems could deliver information on predictive maintenance.  Like when I had a bad rear wheel bearing last year.  I knew a sound indicated something wasn’t right.  It would have been great to know what, and where, and how critical.  It’s well within the realm of possibility.  We’ll talk more about the component level connection in Part 3
  • What if my vehicle could tell me, and the dealer of my choice, what the DTC code readings and relevant other metrics were before I came in for service?  I could have an estimate based on probable diagnosis before even arriving at the service drive for a repair I already knew was scheduled and had parts available.
  • And my personal favorite… what if, when I was experiencing one of those annoying transient failures that never seem to occur when you take the vehicle in, I could press a button that would immediately load all on board diagnostics to the OEM, who could use big data and analytical techniques to seek to isolate the problem.  This becomes even more critical as more and more of the content, and points of failure on a vehicle, are software related.

I’m sure each of you have your own list of favorites, all equally valuable.  The value is there.  But so is the cost.

Costs are not just the hardware, software, and bandwidth costs.  There are intangibles as well…. For example, data privacy.  That’s a whole topic to itself, and if there’s interest we can go there later.  In this context, though, while many stakeholders – OEM’s, component suppliers, finance companies, insurance companies, service providers, the government… – may want the data generated from an Automotive Internet of Things, and while there are many legitimate uses, there are also many concerns.

For some, it’s a matter of principle.  As we’ve noted earlier, if there is profit from my data I want to share in it.  For others, it’s privacy, they may not choose to have their activities tracked.  The recent news about NSA and license plate scans only skims the surface.  One might personally like the idea that on board sensors could detect a pattern in another driver consistent with impaired driving and alert the local police. But I’m betting there would be legal challenges to that in a hurry.

So why is everyone so excited?  May I suggest they (we) are because with each challenge comes opportunity.  There will be a generational shift between current state and ubiquitous acceptance, but when given the freedom the automotive industry has a history of incorporating what drivers want and excluding what they don’t.  And doing so in a way where the value is fairly shared.  The content per dollar in a 2015 automobile is unprecedented in history.  No one’s ever seriously applied Moore’s Law to cars the way they do to microchips, but there’s a similar phenomenon at work.

It’s going to be a wild ride.  Enjoy pondering the possibilities, and please share comments.

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  1. Thomas Wright Post author

    I wrote this over a year ago as we were discussing the impact of the connected car on the driver’s experience.  I had an “update experience” last night, when Hertz provided me a 2016 Volkswagen with Apple’s CarPlay on board.

    What could I do but plug in?

    It brought mind a comment I made in the referenced post: “There’s very little I’ve seen offered outside of proactive maintenance via the connected car where a smartphone with the right set of apps can offer equally well.”

    CarPlay was released after this blog was posted, but based on my still limited experience it fits the bill exactly – enabling the driver, even in a rental car, to incorporate their personal digital identity immediately into their vehicle.

    No doubt after some more time using it I’ll find gripes to add to the current list – seems only to show basic Apple apps and selected others (Pandora, Spotify thankfully) – it’s proving the concept we expressed.  Cool!

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