By now some of you may have listened to SAP Game Changer’s Radio on March 5, where I had the privilege to share a panel discussion with Josh Greenbaum and Joe Barkai.  Both are senior analysts covering our topic, and I thought it worth capturing in this blog some of the discussion.

Perhaps most important, and least surprising, was the consistent consensus among the panelists on both the opportunities and the challenges.

And no surprises on what we all agreed on:

•   The topic is important and will be part of the industry’s conversation for some time to come

•   Fully autonomous vehicles are not something we’ll see in any quantity, any time soon

•   The land grabs will continue as traditional and new entrants to the market compete for a share of the value stream

Josh opened the discussion with an important quote – “We already have driverless cars – they’re called buses”, noting that merely providing autonomous vehicles does not address the broader societal challenges of delivering efficient and environmentally friendly mass transportation.  One can propose that the broader discussion of driverless transportation could also be expanded to other interests such as Uber, an organization that is already leveraging data science to optimize the deployment of a set of loosely connected vehicles.

“Loosely connected” parallels Joe’s comments on the individual’s “digital identity”, an important part of the driver’s experience generally considered resident in their personal mobile device, and not something many will want to surrender to a vehicle.  This sparked a lively, if not conflicted discussion as all agree that the vehicle’s connectivity should complement, not usurp, the capabilities already resident in an iOS, Android, or other device.

In fact, we speculated that perhaps neither Google nor Apple are really interested in building a car.  With the current market capitalization of both, they could easily just buy a company.  Instead, perhaps the battle between these two is to define the architecture for the integration of the driver’s mobile device and the vehicle itself. (Update – commentary in Wall Street Journal 3/4/15 supports this point of view: Holman Jenkins: Apple Investors Better Buckle Up – WSJ )

My take on this is that there will be two categories of systems on board a vehicle.  One, the foundation that controls the vehicle operations, manages the performance and safety components, and interacts with the environment must and will remain the domain of the OEM to manage in collaboration with key system suppliers.  Brand image, not to mention warranty and liability issues, will leave no choice.  Connectivity from this perspective will focus on real time data streams needed to ensure quality, maintainability, and safety and instantaneous response will be a requirement, at least for on board systems.

But the foundational vehicle systems will continue to interact with more personalized, optional, capabilities best described as an extension of the ways in which Bluetooth currently links smart devices to a vehicle.  This is where Apple and Google stand to gain or lose the most.

I suspect my fellow panelists would agree, we talked about this with enthusiasm.  We also talked about the underlying driver – where does value come from and to whom does it accrue.  Josh was the most vocal on a topic we all agreed on – that connecting a vehicle does NOT give permission to anyone to market to us while driving.  While there may options analogous to what Pandora does today – either pay a nominal fee or agree to receive advertising.  This comes back to Joe’s comments on digital identity – there is strong consensus that we’re not going to surrender this, or compromise respect for our privacy, without receiving commensurate value.  Those seeking to monetize the connected car are well advised to remember this.

Finally, and again not to anyone’s surprise, we all agree we could have continued this discussion, and perhaps will in future airings of Game Changer’s Radio..  but for now, I’ll sign off and invite comment.

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