Automotive Electronics

Deep coverage at the system, semiconductor and sensor levels, as well as the broad view of whole value chain. Highly detailed forecasts for automotive electronic system, semiconductor and sensor demand, analyzed by region and vehicle segment.

April 1, 2014 15:15 rlanctot
It is somehow fitting that the day before April Fool’s Day, when GM’s CEO will be testifying before the U.S. Congress on the now 2M+ unit ignition switch recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) delivered its long anticipated announcement of an implementation plan for “rear-view visibility systems.”  In other words, at the very moment that the global automotive safety community is focused on front-facing technologies for collision avoidance, NHTSA is looking backward.  

The so-called back-up camera mandate is now expected to be phased in on 10% of vehicles after May 1, 2016, 40% a year later and 100% in May 2018.  The announcement reflects the struggle of NHTSA to remain relevant and to enable and drive innovation in the industry.

LIDAR and RADAR technologies are in need of regulatory support to drive cost-reducing adoption for autonomous emergency braking (AEB).  Europe has taken the lead here, with the Euro NCAP five star safety ratings likely only extended to cars with appropriate front-facing collision avoidance technologies.  The phase-in of Euro NCAP requirements will mean standard fitment (100%) by 2017.  (For more on this subject, please see the Strategy Analytics report, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems: Euro NCAP gives $2.8 Billion Boost to Demand.)

In fact, the United Kingdom’s insurance research organization, Thatcham, went so far as to suggest a £500 incentive for consumers fitting optional collision avoidance systems – a suggestion that was rejected by insurers.  Thatcham says its research shows that 75% of collisions occur at speeds of less than 20 miles per hour.  Radar technology is more suitable to the requirements of collision avoidance involving greater distances and higher speeds.

The bottom line is that far more injuries and fatalities can be avoided via front-facing sensors vs. rear-facing cameras.  Required by the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 the U.S., the back-up camera implementation plan for the U.S. arrives after years of public comment and research and after multiple unexplained delays.  It is perhaps no surprise that the U.S. is alone in its fixation on backup cameras.

The backup camera requirement is expected to save 210 lives annually and avoid 15,000 injuries.  Front-facing sensors, in contrast, are expected by European authorities to save thousands of lives and avoid far more injuries to vehicle occupants and pedestrians alike.

The implementation of the backup camera mandate in the U.S. reveals a regulatory environment that is reactive and lacking in vision.  It is reactive in that the government’s legislative arm appears to be taking the lead as in the case of the backup camera mandate.  It is lacking vision in its focus on V2V technology to the exclusion of front-facing LIDAR and RADAR technologies capable of saving thousands of lives and avoiding hundreds of thousands of injuries.

Part of the challenge for NHTSA is that it is mired in a political environment that is toxic to all forms of government intervention in industry.  This environment discourages research that is not tied to some constituency’s economic gain.  (In fact, if NHTSA had not chosen recently to move forward with V2V research massive layoffs would have undoubtedly ensured.)

The new Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, and NHTSA missed a chance with the announcement of the backup camera mandate, to redefine its vision and objectives around collision avoidance with a front-facing focus.  To avoid any more April foolishness the agency must refocus its attention on more realistic and existing collision avoidance technologies – such as LIDAR and RADAR – capable of delivering immediate benefits to drivers, pedestrians and society as a whole.

September 4, 2013 19:01 rlanctot

The acquisition of Nokia’s devices business by Microsoft highlighted the key role played by operating system software and maps. The Microsoft acquisition demonstrated the importance of vertically integrating hardware and OS in a post-iPhone era. But Microsoft's ambivalence toward including HERE in its acquisition raised questions over the role and value of map data.

Microsoft will be an important licensee of HERE, most notably its navigation assets. But Microsoft clearly chose not to acquire those assets, including HERE’s automotive grade map.

Microsoft’s lack of interest in HERE highlights the growing interest in OpenStreetMaps. OpenStreetMaps is the crowd-sourced alternative to HERE, TomTom and Google maps. Founded by Steven Coast, OSM has devotees around the world who continue to contribute, raising the quality of OSM’s offering along with the interest level of navigation companies.

Most recently Coast left Microsoft to join TeleNav.  TeleNav has been working hard to take advantage of OSM as a potential alternative or enhancement to the company’s existing map partners TomTom and HERE.  Navmii is another OSM partner, with its own OSM-based navigation app and automotive ambitions.

HERE has near monopoly status as the sole provider of what it defines as an automotive grade map.  TomTom, AND and a handful of local map providers around the world also offer navigable, automotive grade maps.  But no other organization in the world gathers as much road attribute information as HERE or has a data gathering fleet the size of HERE’s.

In fact, while competitors, such as TomTom, have pared back their data gathering resources, HERE has stepped up its efforts – expanding the quantity of information gathered, the miles of roads driven (by the company’s True II survey vehicles) and the frequency and flexibility of map updates.  HERE’s data gathering was enhanced by the acquisition of Earthmine and its camera-based road surveying technology now widely deployed.

While respecting and using HERE’s map data (HERE claims upwards of 80% share of in-dash navigation systems), car makers and their suppliers have been increasingly tempted to tap OSM’s map resources as a base level of data upon which to build their own crowd-sourced maps.  More than one OEM is exploring the build-your-own map proposition by combining OSM data with connected car probe data a la Waze.

Waze famously built its own map and traffic data from user probe inputs leading up to its near-billion-dollar acquisition by Google.  Car makers are eager to leverage their own probes, vehicle connections and sensor and camera inputs to create an in-house alternative to HERE’s map.

Between Google and OSM, the pressure on map pricing is intense.  And Apple is also thought to be considering tapping into OSM which, again, will pressure both TomTom and HERE.

HERE has chosen to buck the trend by enhancing its data gathering and linking map data to advanced safety systems and powertrains.  TomTom has taken a page from OSM’s playbook by leveraging its probe network to enhance its map data.

The challenge for OSM is to overcome existing limitations in its map offering including the lack of TMC location information for linking to traffic incident reports and the lack of road attribute information, such as turn restrictions.  These are not insurmountable obstacles (ie. OSM is thought to be working on using lat./long. data in place of TMC location referencing) but car makers must be honest with themselves regarding the scope of the effort.

The issue of map quality was highlighted recently by a class action lawsuit filed against BMW in the U.S. over its navigation systems, which are based on TomTom maps.  According to a report on the Website:

“The BMW class action lawsuit claims that the optional navigation feature, which costs $1,800, is faulty and cannot be fixed. Plaintiff Karen Morris says that the feature gives wrong directions, resets without warning and misidentifies locations. She accuses BMW of knowing that the technology was defective based on its own testing, industry testing and complaints from consumers and dealers. 

“ ‘BMW’s failure to disclose the propensity of the BMW navigation system to fail and malfunction is especially egregious in light of the safety risks resulting from driving with an unreliable navigation system that directs drivers to unsafe terrain or hazardous road conditions, distracts or confuses drivers, or otherwise suddenly fails to properly work or function at all, thereby placing drivers at greater risk of accidents and harm,” the class action lawsuit says.

“According to the class action lawsuit, Morris purchased a new 2012 BMW 5 series car in August 2012 and paid $1,800 for the BMW Navigation System Professional. Allegedly, BMW provided her with a vehicle warranty covering four years and 50,000 miles. She claims that the navigation system took her on long detours, directed her to the wrong locations and instructed her to travel in the opposite direction of where she was going.

“She took her car to a BMW dealer in Las Vegas to complain about the faulty navigation system. According to the class action lawsuit, employees verified the problem and found that other cars had similar issues. They informed her that they had no way to repair the problem but suggested that she update the system with a 2014 map upgrade.

“Morris alleges that she requested a refund from BMW, but she was told that the problem was caused by the map and was not an issue with the navigation system. According to the class action lawsuit, the representative told her that it wasn’t BMW’s problem. Morris claims that she would not have paid for the optional navigation feature if she had been aware of the problems associated with it. 

“In her class action lawsuit, Morris alleges violation of New Jersey consumer fraud law, federal and state laws governing warranties, violations of Nevada’s deceptive trade practices law and unjust enrichment. She seeks injunctive relief, damages, restitution and attorneys’ fees. She is bringing the BMW navigation class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and a proposed class of “current and former owners and lessees of model year 2012 or 2013 BMW vehicles purchased or leased in the United States that came equipped with the BMW Navigation System Professional.’ “

BMW declined to comment on the lawsuit.  This analyst has had his own unsatisfactory experiences with BMW navigation maps in a 2013 3 Series.

Car makers seeking to take advantage of what OSM has to offer will be watching advances in OSM closely along with the progress of the BMW class action.  For now it looks as if Microsoft has chosen a wait-and-see approach to its long-term map strategy.  HERE, meanwhile, continues to gather data, expand its database and speed its map updating.  Only time will prove whether HERE is able to upgrade or preserve the value of its maps or simply slow the erosion in their value.

August 29, 2013 15:31 rlanctot

Watching “Iron Man 3” on multiple United westbound flights recently it suddenly hit me like a bolt out of the blue – what consumers really want is wearable transportation.  We spend all our time as gurus and industry analysts carrying on about the disruptive impact of Tesla, Google and Apple, but we’ve missed a fundamental paradigm shift in our thinking about cars and all other forms of transportation.  What if we could bring our wheels with us?

I know, I know, we can’t have 200M Tony Starks flying around.  If that were to happen we’d need an entirely new level of vehicle-to-vehicle communication to prevent collisions.  But the idea of bringing your wheels with you wherever you go is a powerful one.  I wish I had my own wheels with me right now – rental cars can be expensive!

Imagine if it were true, though!  (“Honey!  Have you seen my car?”  “It’s in the hall closet where you left it last night!”  “Thanks!”)

The reality is that we are tantalizingly close to this possibility and that possibility resides in our pockets or the palms of our hands.  Today’s smartphone has the power to bring all of our personal attributes with us into any moving vehicle transforming any vehicle into our own personal space.

Companies like Covisint, Airbiquity, Panasonic and others are diligently working to enable a smartphone-based experience that will render portable all of our personal information, preferences, appointments and applications to be brought to life remotely in different vehicles – even, perhaps, in public conveyances.  The technologies that will enable this Tony Stark-like experience are wired and wireless connections and cloud-based applications that will create the secure portability of one’s personal identification along with communications policies and protocols and commerce – all voice-driven and maybe even interfaced to the user’s thoughts.

This prospect is just far enough off on the horizon that the initial manifestations – USB ports and Bluetooth connections in rental cars – are but crudes hints at what is possible.  But combine seamless connectivity with proliferating dashboard and head-up displays and ongoing advances in speech recognition and, yes, thought control of vehicle systems (Freer Logic) and you begin to get the idea that wearable transportation – the combination of portable technology with transportation – is not nearly as farfetched as Robert Downey Jr. propelling himself into space in a wearable rocket ship.

Now excuse me while I check my Nokia 920 after-burners – don’t want to flame out during re-entry this morning.

August 26, 2013 03:52 rlanctot
I am speaking to the National Associate of Insurance Commissioners tomorrow, Monday, in Indianapolis, IN, on the subject of distracted driving and on behalf of Strategy Analytics and Global Mobile Alert – a company with patents governing the use of location technology and wireless communications to mitigate driver distraction. 
Strategy Analytics surveys show self-reported daily smartphone use in cars while driving in the U.S. declining in each of the past three years - but still a problem encompassing writing and reading texts, and making and receiving calls.  And that is not the limit of app use while driving. 
( - Majority of US Smartphone Owners Use Apps while Driving)
Insurers have a clear vested interest in the emerging problem of driver distraction and how it can be solved.  The broad message is that the problem can be solved with technology and that laws should support and guide the progress and adoption of life-saving technology.
Unfortunately, legislators and regulators have been erring recently on the side of bans, regulations and laws that have created confusion among consumers and challenges for law enforcement.  As an example, 12 states have bans on handheld phone use, five have partial bans; three states have no texting ban, six states have a partial ban and 41 have complete texting bans.
The first step to a simplified scheme for mitigating distracted driving in the U.S. ought to be the adoption of a do-not-touch-your-phone-while-driving directive from the Federal government.  In the absence of such clarity, a fragmented landscape of texting and handsheld phone bans has spread across the country. 
To contend with this legal hodge-podge, the four leading wireless carriers in the U.S. are heavily promoting a public service campaign intended to discourage mobile phone users from texting while driving.  The campaign is called “It Can Wait” and features public service announcements that include celebrities and victims of distracted driving incidents discouraging the use of mobile phones for texting while driving and encouraging mobile phone users to take a pledge not to text and drive.
The campaign is unique in the world because of the regulatory environment in the U.S. since states pass the laws governing the use of mobile devices in cars.  The Federal government also passes laws, conditionally manages highway funds, and promulgates guidelines and mandates.
Federal involvement in regulation in the U.S. can include everything from Congress to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Communications Commission.  The texting and driving problem – blamed by NHTSA for an estimated 3,000 annual fatalities in the U.S. – raises questions regarding smartphone integration in cars impacting both the automotive and wireless industries, both of which support substantial lobbying operations in the U.S. capitol.
The lobbying organizations represent the interests of the two respective industries, both of which are struggling to come to terms with the relatively recent phenomenon of smartphone use in cars, generally, and texting, in particular.  The regulatory agencies are under pressure from crash victims and the general public to find ways to mitigate the impact of smartphone-related driver distraction that has emerged in the past few years as a source of crashes and fatalities around the world.
In fact, the issue of driver distraction has even impacted public transportation, with mobile phones implicated in multiple train and even bus crashes around the world.  There is no question that an urgent problem exists.
The safety of the driving public in the U.S., as in other nations, is influenced by the decisions of car makers, wireless carriers, insurance companies, handset manufacturers, and app developers as well as regulators and legislators.  In many countries, though certainly not in all, regulatory authorities have banned the use of mobile devices by drivers.
Multiple organizations in the U.S., and even the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), have recommended the complete jamming or disabling of mobile phones in cars.  NHTSA has taken the path of encouraging states to ban both handheld use of phones and smartphone texting by drivers. 
The good news is that NHTSA has not gone so far as to throw the baby out with the bathwater by opting for mobile phone jamming in cars.  NHTSA continues to work with car makers and their suppliers to develop voluntary guidelines, not only because they can have more immediate impact than rule-making, but also because they recognize that solving the problem is a work in progress.
In this context, the It Can Wait campaign is not unlike the warning on packages of cigarettes and other consumer products – smoking (and texting) can kill.  Clearly the wireless carriers have taken this pre-emptive step to head off onerous regulations and to make unequivocal their commitment to safety.
The underlying feeling is that an outright ban on the use of smartphones in cars will only motivate consumers to use their phones illegally.  A ban will not halt the problem.
Unfortunately for all involved – car makers, carriers, consumers and regulators – no single in-vehicle connectivity system has emerged as a safe and simple solution to smartphone connectivity.  Each car maker is pursuing its own path, undermining the potential for a national education campaign around universal smartphone connectivity.
A simpler do-not-touch-the-phone-while-driving law would have the added benefit of making the requirements for in-vehicle system interfaces fairly clear cut for car makers and app developers alike.  Even the carriers would benefit.
(In addition to laws that specifically mention mobile phone use in cars there are laws against all forms of distraction in the car which are routinely enforced and can include drinking coffee or applying makeup.  In fact, reckless driving is usually up to the discretion of the enforcement officer and could be interpreted to include texting while driving.)
Opinions vary about the degree of danger associated with looking at or touching mobile devices in moving vehicles.  In many countries enforcement is lax regarding limits on the use of mobile devices by drivers.
The concerns regarding distraction also apply to embedded navigation systems and other on-board apps as well.  In many cars and in many countries it is impossible to pair a Bluetooth phone or enter navigation destination information while a vehicle is moving.
NHTSA is working on the third generation of its set of guidelines for the design of in-vehicle systems to mitigate distraction.  The fact that NHTSA has progressed to a third generation of these guidelines is but one indication of the degree of difficulty to the challenge facing the agency as it tries to regulate mobile device use and mitigate distraction.
Car makers and wireless carriers are genuinely concerned about the problem and the It Can Wait campaign reflects a broad-based effort to raise awareness and stop the mis-use of smartphones in moving vehicles.  The problem for both the car makers and the carriers is that smartphone integration in cars is rapidly becoming a powerful selling point for new cars – creating a scenario where an integrated smartphone can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.
The challenge for the industry is complex.  Car makers are only just beginning to understand how to leverage connected smartphones to sell cars.  Honda, Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota, among others, have all begun using smartphone integration in their cars as a prominent selling point – including Chevrolet advertising the integration of Apple’s Siri voice recognition capability in the new Sonic.
The ads walk a fine line between promoting smartphone use without encouraging reckless or dangerous applications, such as texting.  But the industry is at a critical crossroads where smartphone integration is a powerful marketing tool, but one that requires educating consumers on how to connect their smartphones and use them safely.
A properly integrated smartphone will surrender control of applications to the vehicle’s interfaces.  The problem lies in the fact that connecting smartphones in cars is a non-intuitive process.  Multiple car makers report that usage of smartphone connections, outside of Bluetooth hands-free phone connections, is minimal.
For the auto makers to successfully and safely integrate phones, they must make the process simpler while training consumers and dealers in how to connect phones in cars.  Unfortunately, most of the early smartphone integration initiatives focused on applications such as Twitter and Facebook thereby highlighting the dangers of smartphone connections contributing to driver distraction.
Car makers have wised up.  The focus has recently shifted almost exclusively to navigation and streaming audio applications, both of which are more suited to the driving task and less likely to contribute to distraction.
Navigation and location-related applications, in particular, are increasingly emerging as key elements to building a location-aware connected car experience.  Car makers are beginning to understand that location awareness – enabled by vehicle connections (either embedded or smartphone-based) can help mitigate distraction and enhance safety.
A car with a connection is more likely to have up-to-date maps, traffic and weather information, all of which can contribute to driving safety.  At the core of these development activities is the objective of creating a location aware experience in the car and connected smartphones are especially well suited to achieving this objective.
Location awareness in the car is essential for a variety of purposes, not the least of which is safety.  The original location aware system in the car is the car radio which delivers local traffic, news and weather as well as emergency notifications and even local advertising messages.
Smartphone connectivity introduces the possibility for:
            Hyper local traffic and weather
            Crowd-sourced road condition information
            POI information – fuel, parking, tolls, food, lodging
            Roadside assistance, automatic crash notification, and event data recording
In fact, a properly connected and integrated smartphone is capable of managing the driver’s workload, limiting or managing voice and text communications, and alerting the driver to hazardous driving conditions.  In fact, Global Mobile Alert is designed to interrupt in-vehicle communications to alert drivers to intersections, school zones and railroad crossings - along with a pull over to text notification to the driver with an auto-response. 
The company also holds patents for wireless communicating signal light phases to cars.  (Global Mobile Alert is open to making its patents available for tests and trials.)
Car makers and carriers should be focused on solving the smartphone connectivity challenge with the primary goal of yielding control of the device to the car.  The best smartphone interfaces in cars disable or block use of the device’s screen – thereby removing any temptation to touch or use the device directly.
We have the technology to solve the problem of distracting driving, all that remains is to adopt the appropriate regulatory framework – ie. do not touch the phone while driving.  Technology and creative engineers in the wireless and automotive industries will solve the rest.

August 9, 2013 21:57 rlanctot

General Motors has begun advertising the integration of Siri in the Chevrolet Sonic. The ad is a work of art ( on a par with the most clever advertising output from Apple, which is a good thing for GM which is hoping some of Apple’s cachet rubs off on the Sonic.

Siri does not have a great history of excellent performance when used in a car, which raises questions regarding the efficacy of this integration and the ROI for GM.  If Siri doesn't boost sales or customer satisfaction scores, this may be a brief experiment. 

One has to salute GM for its willingness to take a risk here.  If Apple showed even a hint of being a more reliable partner, this analyst would be more enthusiastic, but it is painfully clear that automotive industry priorities are anything but a priority to Apple.

First, Siri is a hold-the-phone-to-your-mouth speech recognition technology and is not optimized for use in cars generally or in the Sonic in particular. Automotive grade speech recognition engines are tuned to individual cars and their particular aural characteristics – and most, though not all, take advantage of echo cancellation and noise reduction to enhance speech recognition.

The best speech recognition systems – a space dominated by Nuance – take into account automotive specific use cases to improve recognition by limiting or better organizing the recognition process. Systems such as Dragon Drive from Nuance or even less sophisticated versions make assumptions about what kind of questions or information needs are most likely to arise in the car to improve the chances and speed of recognition thereby mitigating distraction.

Even speech recognition systems from Nuance don’t get it right every time, but the chances of Siri mitigating distraction by enhancing speech recognition in a noisy vehicle cabin is slender indeed.  Integrating Siri is an invitation to confusion, dissatisfaction and disappointment – and that only accounts for the iPhone owners.  Owners of mobile phones from other suppliers are completely out of luck.

Which brings me to the second dimension of failure inherent in any Apple integration.  The integration of Siri in cars falls into the overflowing bucket of gimmicky automotive solutions intended to borrow some sales and marketing pizzazz from the world of technology.  Similar short-sighted strategems have included:

Google Search – BMW and others

Google Earth – Audi

Google Maps – Tesla

Apple docking cradle – BMW

Apple iPhone dock – VW

Every one of these solutions is a failure at some level for not taking into account the special circumstances of in-vehicle integration.  Google Search works – awkwardly – in appropriately equipped BMWs, but does not take into account the driving direction or route of the car – hence some results may not be in the direction of travel.  There is a clear lack of contextual awareness.

Google Earth is an impressive and expensive implementation in AudiConnect equipped cars in the U.S., but this solution seems to be more of a proof of concept than a real value proposition to Audi drivers.  Google Earth is a show-offy feature that adds nothing to the safe or efficient use of the car – and requires a $15 monthly subscription besides.

Google Maps in Tesla’s Model S is another impressive and no-doubt expensive implementation.  The live map is delivered to the 17” display in the car via a 3G embedded modem.  Tesla has only recently acknowledged its intention to provide some caching capability to overcome the tendency of the map image to pixilate or disappear entirely.

The Apple docking cradle for selected BMWs was no doubt another expensive engineering and design proposition.  In the end, the cradle – costing $250 – was only suitable for use with the iPhone 4 and only enabled access to audio or video files (projected into the head unit) purchased from the iTunes store.

BMW’s iPhone dock, in other words, allowed Apple to open an iTunes kiosk integrated in the center console.  No matter, any iPhone docked in the BMW cradle had a tendency to overheat undermining the cleverness and expense that went into creating the device.

And, finally, there's the iPhone dock for the so-called iBeetle.  According to a Mashable report the iBeetle models – in Applefied color schemes – will launch in the beginning of 2014 following their debut at the Shanghai auto show.

Writes Mashable:  “When the iPhone is connected to the docking station or synced wirelessly to the dashboard, it unlocks various features via the iBeetle app.  For example, it can read Facebook and SMS messages out loud, and, in addition to syncing with iTunes, you can switch back and forth with Spotify.

“Another features is Postcard, which sends the current location of the iBeetle to friends as a digital message. Besides the car's location, the postcard also displays engine temperature gauges, a chronometer and a compass.”

As with Apple’s announcement of its iOS in Car docking station, nowhere is there a mention of enhanced navigation, traffic data or safety – to say nothing of distraction mitigation.

Bottom line, companies such as Google and Apple do not have automotive priorities at heart or in their plans.  To put it more clearly, Apple and Google have no idea what is required to support an auto maker shipping cars around the world.  Google wants to sell advertising and search results and Apple wants to sell phones, tablets, etc.  Those are the buttons they want to push and it pushes my buttons every time.  Does it push yours too?

August 8, 2013 08:57 rlanctot

The back-up camera mandate should be implemented. A simplified do-not-touch-your-phone law should be promoted. And DSRC modules should be mandated on commercial and emergency vehicles. Those are the results of a survey of attendees at the recent Telematics Update V2V conference in Novi, Mich., regarding US Department of Transportation priorities.

 Respondents were asked to vote on 10 To-Do items previously recommended for incoming U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and detailed in a Strategy Analytics blog (  Perhaps it is not surprising that these respondents nearly universally agreed that commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles ought to be prioritized for deployment of modules enabling dedicated short range communication (DSRC) messaging.  But DSRC-based V2V technology was not the only thing on their minds.

 Respondents strongly agreed that anti-texting laws and hands-free phone initiatives were probably doing more to confuse drivers than they were to mitigate distracted driving.  For those reasons, 61.5% said they agreed that a do-not-touch-your-phone law to simplify the rules and the enforcement of anti-distraction laws was a worthy task for the incoming Secretary.

 But the biggest headline-grabbing support of 84.6% and 92.3%, respectively, was voiced for the deployment of DSRC for commercial and emergency vehicles.  The complete results appear following the verbatim comments (below) where respondents offered their own priorities for the new DOT Secretary.

 “Congestion mitigation (congestion pricing, traffic information, V2I, etc.) … high levels of congestion as we see in San Francisco and other cities is getting worse and will have a greater negative economic impact.

“Collision mitigation technologies for heavy trucks  (as in #5).

 “ITS (information hotspots) similar to the ITS hotspots in Japan – in-vehicle signage and traffic information.

 “#7 (above) is a key element of research – can DSRC and LTE play together well (as in) spectrum sharing etc.  We are (encouraging) the wireless community to come to the Novi CVTB V2I Test bed and try LTE and DSRC first as a simcast of messages on both channels.”


“Reorganize US DOT to improve efficiency.  As an example, there are a minimum of three organizations with DOT that have commercial vehicle oversight and rule-making authority. There should only be one.

“Reassign all policy and governance for the Connected Vehicle program from the JPO to the FHWA office of policy.  JPO has had this in their hands for the past 5+ years and have not moved the ball.  The technical people are making decisions that will require a lot of work to modify if the policy people don’t follow the same path.  They should be working together and with the industry.”


“The total benefit for back-up camera systems as a visual-only warning mechanism have not been sufficiently compared to back-up object detection systems that incorporate automatic brake control.  Whichever of those two approaches shows the greatest likelihood of saving lives should be what is legislated.

“DSRC systems have not yet been sufficiently studied as an approach to improve existing active safety mechanisms.  This study should be performed, and if the results prove positive, it should be considered whether to mandate those integrated active safety mechanisms whenever DSRC may be mandated.

“As a subset to #4 (above), I would urge DOT to encourage/facilitate an industry discussion about legal liability in accidents involving autonomous systems.  Start the discussion now before a headline-grabbing accident or class action lawsuit has everyone declaring ‘Not our fault!’ and expending all their energies on protecting themselves.”


“Provide the metropolitan area with a means (public transport, emergency, taxi, …) to upgrade roadside units with DSRC.

“Mandate DSRC for cabs in major cities.

“Provide new infrastructure plan with networking capability.

“Generate green and SDC lane on highway.”


“Release Safety Pilot results/data ASAP (the lack of information is causing everyone to adopt a wait-and-see approach).

“Ensure that all new highway developments/upgrades have DSRC fitted (the cost is miniscule compared to the cost of the road).

“Ensure that all new traffic light deplyments have DSRC fitted (the price of RSEs woud tumble in the face of such opportunities).”


“Research programs, initiatives, incentive programs focusing on driver distraction countermeasures via technological solutions (e.g. voice interfaces, improved HMIs, lockouts).

“Focus on improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure (roads and bridges).

“Focus on driver fatigue/drowsiness as a safety area (like LaHood did with driver distraction).

“Much greater focus on commercial vehicle safety research; greater funding allocations to FMCSA and FTA research programs.”


And the complete results:


#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving

Yes: 61.5%      No: 23.1%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#2 – Endorse California legislation AB 397 for the creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification database.

Yes: 46.1%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 38.5%

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Yes: 69.2%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#4 – Provide a legislative framework and guidelines for states to register and license self-driving cars with the sole requirement that drivers must be in the driver seat and responsible for control of the vehicle.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 7.7%

#5 – Initiate a process for mandating the installation of DSRC modules on commercial vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 15.4%

#6 – Require the installation of DSRC modules on all emergency and service vehicles.

Yes: 92.3%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 7.7%

#7 – Add LTE and LTE Advanced modules to all current DSRC tests.

Yes: 38.5%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 23.1%

#8 – Highlight elements of Next Gen 911 research focused on the acquisition of crash scene information including text, video, data and voice via smartphones.

Yes: 61.5%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 30.7%

#9 – Highlight app development intended to improve the functioning of all transit including public transportation, traffic information, schedules, traffic, car and ride sharing.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 7.7%

#10 – Roadside Bluetooth installations should be required to add DSRC.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 30.7%

January 20, 2012 11:21 rlanctot

Participants in and observers of the automotive industry are familiar with the normally glacial pace of change in the business. But change sometimes comes rapidly as a result of unexpected events such as fatal accidents or the subsequent accident investigations.

The most recent example of this phenomenon lies in the final report and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel reviewing the findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from the investigation of Toyota’s year-old sudden acceleration problems.

The NAS report has revealed the vulnerabilities of both the automotive industry and its regulatory body, NHTSA.  The fallout from the NAS recommendations are likely to quietly rattle the board rooms of car makers around the world.

Those recommendations are:

1.      That NHTSA become more familiar with and engaged in standard-setting and other efforts involving industry that are aimed at strengthening the means by which manufacturers ensure the safe performance of their automotive electronics systems.

2.      That NHTSA convene a standing technical advisory panel comprising individuals with backgrounds in the disciplines central to the design, development, and safety assurance of automotive electronics systems, including software and systems engineering, human factors, and electronics hardware. The panel should be consulted on relevant technical matters that

arise with respect to all of the agency’s vehicle safety programs, including regulatory reviews, defect investigation processes, and research needs assessments.

3.      That NHTSA undertake a comprehensive review of the capabilities that ODI (Office of Defect Investigation) will need in monitoring for and investigating safety deficiencies in electronics-intensive vehicles. A regular channel of communication should be established between NHTSA’s research program and ODI to ensure that (a) recurrent vehicle- and driver-related safety problems observed in the field are the subjects of research and (b) research is committed to furthering ODI’s surveillance and investigation capabilities, particularly the detail, timeliness, and analyzability of the consumer complaint and early warning data central to these capabilities.

4.      The committee concurs with NHTSA’s intent to ensure that EDRs be commonplace in new vehicles and recommends that the agency pursue this outcome, recognizing that the utility of more extensive and capable EDRs will depend in large part on the extent to which the stored data can be retrieved for safety investigations

5.      The committee also endorses NHTSA’s stated plan to conduct research on pedal design and placement and keyless ignition

design requirements but recommends that this research be a precursor to a broader human factors research initiative in collaboration with industry and that the research be aimed at informing manufacturers’ system design decisions.

6.      The committee believes that strategic planning is fundamental to sound decision

making and thus recommends that NHTSA initiate a strategic planning effort that gives explicit consideration to the safety challenges resulting from vehicle electronics and that gives rise to an agenda for meeting them. The agenda should spell out the near- and longer-term changes that will be needed in the scope, direction, and capabilities of the agency’s regulatory, research, and defect investigation programs.

7.      The committee further recommends that NHTSA place development and completion of the strategic plan as a top goal in its coming 3-year priority plan. NHTSA should communicate the purpose of the planning effort, define how it will be developed and implemented commensurate with advice in this report, and give a definite time frame for its completion. The plan should be made public so as to guide key policy decisions—from budgetary to legislative—that will determine the scope and direction of the agency’s vehicle safety programs.

The recommendations touch on the functioning of several vehicle systems including brake pedals, event data recorders and keyless ignition systems.  While the investigation resulted from several sudden acceleration incidents, one in particular, involving the Saylor family and Mark Saylor, a California Highway Patrol officer and former pilot, helped to bring the issue to the attention of regulators.

The Saylor crash was unique in the fact that it  involved a highly skilled driver and a live 911 call from the vehicle seeking help while the incident was in progress.  The vehicle involved, a Lexus, featured a keyless ignition system requiring a three-second depress of the ignition button to turn the car’s engine off.  The vehicle's floormats were implicated in the Saylor incident and an earlier mishap.  Mark Saylor and three family members died in the spectacular crash that resulted from the vehicle’s uncontrolled acceleration.

While mechanical failure was not completely ruled out, and Toyota endured a recall to replace brake pedal mechanisms, regulators focused on software issues.  NHTSA was unable to identify any specific software failure, a finding which was affirmed by NAS.

But NAS’s half-endorsement and half-critique of NHTSA is both unsatisfying and forboding.  (It is also a not-so-subtle request for additional research funding.)  NAS is in effect saying NHTSA was correct in finding no error, but that NHTSA is not and was not equipped to be successful in its quest in the first place.  NAS was only reviewing NHTSA’s findings and not conducting its own independent inquiry, so it is unclear whether NAS has the expertise, the lack of which it notes at NHTSA.

Two directions may emerge from the NAS report.  NHTSA may pursue additional research and regulatory actions or it may do nothing.  The likelihood is that NHTSA won’t do much as indicated by its comments on the report suggesting that it has already taken steps to beef up its capabilities.

In an ideal world, the following steps might be taken:

è Convene a panel to review the existing EDR standard (not currently a mandate though widely adopted on a voluntary basis) to determine what, if any, additional data ought to be collected;

è Consider a recommendation requiring greater sharing of EDR data voluntarily, on-demand or automatically in all accident cases;

è Review current OEM policies and procedures for vehicle data collection and distribution – ie. via embedded modems – what data is currently collected and processed, under what circumstances and for what purposes, and with whom and how it is shared;

è Develop a process for defining voluntary minimum standards for connected vehicle systems regarding safety-related data gathering and sharing;

è Convene a panel to assess the implications for remote vehicle control and real-time vehicle monitoring in circumstances impacting the safety of drivers or the public.

A review of the physical and electronic functioning of brake systems and keyless ignition systems implicated in the Toyota sudden acceleration incidents is inevitable and is likely ongoing.  And there are some in the regulatory community that have called for the implementation of a brake override capability.  Meanwhile, Toyota’s massive post-review investments in safety systems and safety research are noteworthy.

But the proliferation of connected vehicle technologies, particularly embedded systems, has wider implications in this context.  A live real-time connection to a car creates expectations from the consumer and obligations for the manufacturer.  OnStar’s remote vehicle slowdown capability for stopping vehicle thefts is but one example, but it is notable given its embrace in Brazil’s Contran 245 vehicle tracking and immobilization mandate.

If a car company has the capability to stop a car in danger of getting into an accident or the subject of criminal activity, does it have an obligation to do so?  Given the circumstances of the Saylor crash, such questions need to be asked and their implications explored.  The events are not dissimilar from the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, that regulators said might have been prevented by existing pilot monitoring technologies.


NAS’s lukewarm endorsement of NHTSA’s findings brought the Toyota investigation to an unsatisfying conclusion.  Observers are left with the powerful implications of the multiple fatal incidents that caused the review.

Software and electronics are playing an increasingly important role in automotive systems.  Connectivity, too, is emerging and creating new demands on OEMs even as the technology enables new functions for consumers.

OEMs will do well to get ahead of the issues by improving transparency regarding the operation of their systems.  Car makers will benefit from enhanced consumer awareness of their systems and regulators clearly need to be educated regarding system capabilities and long term industry direction.

In this context it is important to note that OnStar emerged from General Motors’ own initiative and not from a government mandate.  It will be best for consumers, the industry and the marketplace if the automotive industry can maintain its firm grasp of this initiative.

The day has already arrived that a vehicle connectivity system can be used to stop a thief.  The day may not be far off when a telematics system can prevent a crash – especially with V2X technology arriving before the end of the decade.

Car makers should do all in their power to demonstrate that telematics systems are the solution to the problem and not just another driver distraction.  Perhaps this communication is already taking place.

January 16, 2012 09:43 rlanctot

The very organizations that present themselves as most concerned with the welfare of the driving public are actually impairing the adoption of automotive safety systems. Insurance companies in the U.S. refuse to offer discounts for safety systems and the inability of regulators to prove the efficacy of active safety systems will likely prevent the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from mandating these enhancements.

In spite of the lack of regulatory support and insurance incentives, Strategy Analytics actually foresees robust adoption rates for advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) among auto makers. (New ADAS Systems: Reaching Compact Segments, Reaching Greater Volumes, More Sensor Fusion But that uptake will come in the absence and in spite of a lack of commercial incentives.

Soft mandates and incentives

The best that regulators can muster in the U.S., Europe and Asia is NCAP “recognition” for cars that offer these technologies – even though few are offered as standard. The safety mantra among regulators has shifted to crash avoidance from crashworthiness. This does not mean that crashworthiness has been abandoned, but the perception is that reductions in accident fatalities from mandated systems such as airbags have reached a point of diminishing returns and that most future reductions in fatalities will come from ADAS systems intended to avoid accidents altogether.

This shift in emphasis is also aligned with the long-term plan to deploy intelligent highway systems built around V2X vehicle connectivity. The key problem with this approach is that regulators are now facing the considerably more difficult task of proving that new ADAS technologies – candidates for new mandates – have actually or are actually preventing crashes. Crash worthiness is easier to demonstrate, measure and mandate.

The one company that stands out for its standard fitment of cutting edge ADAS technologies is Volvo. One might be forgiven for expecting the company and its well-appointed vehicles to be a shining commercial success for its leadership in safety system adoption. The XC60 – with its standard City Safety crash avoidance technology – has been blessed with research findings validating its effectiveness at crash avoidance, but nary a single insurance carrier in the U.S. offers a discount for the car as a result of its safety system.

Volvo’s XC60 changes the game

In 2011, the U.S.-based Highway Loss Data Institute released a study of claim frequency and severity for the Volvo XC60 – equipped with City Safety crash avoidance technology – and found that the estimated claim frequency was 27 percent lower than that for all other midsize luxury SUVs combined. The study concluded that “the overall loss ($68 per insured vehicle year) for the XC60 was lower than that for other midsize luxury SUVs combined by 20 percent, a statistically significant result.”

Strategy Analytics noted that this finding together with “the indication that the system reduces injury rates” provided some of the first real evidence that ADAS technologies can have a measurable, real-world impact on safety. But insurers have remained on the sideline. (For a description of the XC60 and the HDLI study: Advanced Safety Systems in the Real World: They Work!

There is a legitimate concern for insurers arising from the City Safety technology deployed by Volvo. City Safety is intended to operate under congested, low-speed traffic circumstances – applying emergency braking with no alerts or warnings to the driver in order to avoid collisions. The HLDI study validated the insurance savings attributed to this system, but the implications of such systems are only beginning to be grasped.

A new acronym AEB for autonomous emergency braking has emerged to describe this class of safety system and the insurance industry is clearly struggling to assess its attraction to consumers and life and property saving qualities in practice. As the HLDI study has shown and anecdotal evidence suggests, AEB may actually have the ability to pay for itself especially in the age of the distracted driver.

Of course, if insurers will not step forward to incentivise consumers to purchase XC60’s, it is no shock that cars equipped with more familiar safety offerings such as blind spot detection and lane departure warning also fail to qualify for discounts. The same applies for telematics equipped cars offering automotive crash notification and stolen vehicle recovery technology. Discounts are available for limiting miles driven for OnStar drivers with State Farm insurance policies, but not for any other purpose.

Discounts for everything BUT safety systems

The reason this lack of insurance discounts is so aggravating is that it seems that insurers will offer discounts for almost anything else including student driver good grades discounts, online policy signing discounts, and accident forgiveness. In the words of Progressive Insurance from their Website: We offer dozens of discounts depending on your state. You can receive discounts for mileage, students, coverage choices and more. Simply complete your quote and we'll include any applicable discounts for you.

It is no less than shocking that even research findings from the insurance-industry funded HLDI are not enough to justify even the shadow of a discount. At one level, this failure is understandable, given the nature of insurance selling in the U.S.

Most consumers walking onto a dealer lot in the U.S. already have insurance. This proposition makes it difficult for a dealer to access or offer a discount since it would, in most cases, require the consumer to change his or her coverage or carrier – especially since, in the U.S., a substantial proportion of drivers have combined their car with their home insurance.

A lost opportunity?

Still, given the mature nature of the insurance industry – where large market share swings are almost unheard of – the opportunity to steal customers away from competing insurance companies ought to represent an opening to reward safety-system-buying consumers. The problem, though, is that the automotive insurance industry is as conservative as it is mature and the industry is also subject to 50 state regulatory bodies in the U.S. Insurers will not offer these discounts until there are more cars fitted with the technology, according to industry experts. And the low number of XC60’s on the road limits the attraction of reaching out to these buyers.

Here we arrive at the chicken and egg conundrum where consumers will resist adopting these advanced safety technologies because they are expensive, often hard to find on dealer lots and there is no reward – ie. a discount on insurance. The lack of a discount actually sends a secondary negative message that maybe these systems really aren’t worthwhile in the first place.

Further validation of the value of Volvo’s City Safety technology arrives in the form of a recent report in FenderBender magazine. (Cars with Crash Avoidance Steer Clear of the Repair Shop - The article notes: An October report from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) estimated that crash avoidance technology could eliminate all accidents caused by driver error. That’s a whopping 90 percent of crashes.”

European insurers crack open the discount door

A glimmer of hope for drivers and Volvo arrives in the form of an emerging array of insurance company discounts, some in place and some under consideration, across Europe for the XC60. Volvo executives indicate some progress with European carriers even as they continue to lobby U.S. insurers.

The company says it has seen some reductions ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent for cars with City Safety. In some cases, the insurer requires the additional bundling of the full Driver Support package: blind spot detection, lane departure warning, active cruise control, front collision warning, etc. (See chart below.)


All indications suggest that there is some hope for ADAS systems finding additional regulatory and insurance industry support. The current sad state of affairs where consumers obtain no insurance rate advantage from opting for advanced safety systems not only discourages interest but sends a strong message about the effectiveness of those systems.

Car makers bear some of the responsibility for low fitment rates and a lack of emphasis in advertising messages. Volvo and Mercedes are standouts in their safety messaging – focusing heavily on safety messages in their national advertising.

The opportunity for insurance companies to steal business from rivals with safety-system-based discounts ought to be attractive – especially in light of the HLDI study. But insurance companies may have been burned in the past by new technologies that failed to deliver discount-worthy savings.

By now, though, it is clear that these increasingly sophisticated safety systems – which are finding their way to larger volume vehicle segments – are very likely saving lives and money. When repair shops are starting to complain, as in the case of the FenderBender article, it is a strong indication that an insurer does not need a sophisticated study to interpret the writing on the wall.

For NHTSA, the emergence of advanced, active safety features represents a new opportunity to provide carrot and sticks to guide the industry, but unlike more mechanical solutions such as airbags, the path is less clear for software-based technologies such as LDW and BSD. New kinds of metrics are called for, although they may be, by necessity, rearward looking.

The HLDI study of the XC60 may ultimately serve as a preliminary template for creating standards recommendations for future enhanced safety systems. But given the wide range of functionality and performance of these camera- and radar-based systems it is likely that NHTSA, like the NCAP movement, will be forced into more of an advisory role.

Above all, NHTSA will have to walk a fine line between too-specific standards and providing no guidance or vision at all. The best outcome might be for NHTSA to define a roadmap or vision of ADAS development and deployment to assist the industry in prioritizing its development activities. This process will put at the top of the list those technologies or systems expected to save the most lives. But again, NHTSA will do best to mandate solutions such as automatic crash notification without specifying the physical implementation.

And it is time for NHTSA to intervene on behalf of the automotive industry and the driving public and insist on insurance industry support for safe driving technologies. Consumer-driven adoption of safety technologies is a proven life saver, after all.

Additional insight:

ADAS Supply & Fitment Database:

Automotive RADAR: Design Trends Point Towards Performance And Affordability:

Advanced Safety Systems in the Real World: They Work!

New ADAS Systems: Reaching Compact Segments, Reaching Greater Volumes, More Sensor Fusion

NHTSA Rear View Requirements Will Provide up to 10 Million Unit Boost to Automotive Camera Market

ADAS Demand Outlook: Affordability and Reliability Key to Future Growth