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.

July 24, 2014 16:08 rlanctot

Ford’s Mark Fields started 2014 with the announcement of aluminum-bodied F-150s and, following his appointment as CEO, has doubled down on the fuel efficiency message with the announcement of the hiring of Dr. Ken Washington, a top researcher out of Lockheed Martin’s space program.  Washington will head Ford’s advanced research and engineering efforts bringing experience in “light-weighting, (powertrain) control, autonomy and energy storage” to Ford, as highlighted in a brief interview with Strategy Analytics earlier this week.

 

The move coincided with a shift of Kumar Gulhotra, current vice president of engineering for Ford and Lincoln, to global president of Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand.

 

Washington was most recently vice president of the Space Technology Advanced Research & Development Laboratories, or STARLabs, at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems company.  He is expected to accelerate innovation at Ford and will report to Raj Nair, group vice president, global product development.  Washington’s background spans nuclear engineering, information systems, supercomputing, information privacy and R&D regarding space-related technologies.

 

All indications suggest that the announcement revolves around Ford’s ability to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards set by the U.S. government.  Washington’s boss, Nair, was quoted at the North American International Auto Show saying that Ford intends to double its global hybrid offerings by the end of the decade and expand auto start/stop to 70% of its cars.

 

Start/stop is already part of the plan for the 2015 F-150, shown earlier this week.  While Ford did not release its MPG estimates for the new F-150s, it did show a 732-lb. weight reduction from the use of aluminum, a surprisingly high figure.

 

The F-150 has always dragged down Ford’s corporate average fuel economy.  However, in January it claimed that the improved fuel economy of the new model will mean that for the first time the truck will help raise Ford’s overall fuel economy figure.  Ford has also had to restate the MPG of its hybrid models, as consumers complained of not being able to attain the originally claimed fuel economy levels.  So far, only the C-MAX, Focus and Fusion/MKZ have HEV/PHEV/EV versions.

It remains to be seen whether Lincoln will move toward a luxury HEV offering to take on Lexus or a more ambitious full EV to compete with Tesla.  The shift of Gulhotra and the hiring of Washington suggest that Ford is focused on fuel economy, electrification and autonomous driving, precisely in that order – even as it prepares to embed modems in its non-electric vehicles.


July 21, 2014 17:07 rlanctot

There is a spooky statistical confluence in the U.S. between highway fatalities and deaths resulting from gun violence (homicides and suicides, combined). Both figures hover around 30,000, or about 100/day.

And just as the world is treated to the U.S.’s perennial debate over the merits and nature of gun control, the auto industry is now grappling with the question of surrendering vehicle control to a computer. In fact, those socialist-leaning Europeans have even broached the subject of governmental remote control of cars (Telegraph report: http://tinyurl.com/pp4ol27) which actually aligns with Brazil’s delayed anti-theft mandate for vehicle immobilization.

It all reminds me of the late Charlton Heston (pictured, from "Omega Man"), five-term president of the National Rifle Association (1998-2003), who made famous the bumper sticker slogan “from my cold dead hands” as in "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands."

It appears that cars are second only to guns as a symbol of freedom and control - at least in the U.S. When surveyed by Strategy Analytics, only a minority of respondents express interest in owning or paying for self-driving cars. In fact, the paying for part will probably be the greatest obstacle as the price tag for autonomous driving is likely to remain in the thousands of dollars for the foreseeable future.

Pair the high cost with the inclination of consumers to preserve their access to freedom and control and you have two solid nearly impenetrable barriers to autonomous vehicle adoption. The U.S. consumer is essentially saying a la Charlton Heston – “you’ll get the steering wheel when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

And now Google wants to take away the steering wheel and the brake pedals (New York Times report: http://tinyurl.com/o89oj7f).

So whether it’s the government (and not just the U.S. government) or Google, more and more organizations are interested in wresting control of the car away from the driver. This is aside from the plans being laid for “intelligent” highways that will take control of cars and the wave of interest growing in pay-per-use vehicle taxation.

But drivers can be expected to fight for their rights.

Call it an aphrodisiac. Call it a hallucinogen. Whatever you call it, the driving experience is intoxicating and drivers can be expected to fight to preserve their freedom from control. (Just imagine Germany surrendering its Autobahn network, nein!) Getting drivers to change their behavior and attitudes will require some sophisticated combination of coercion and temptation – even after the technology becomes sufficiently inexpensive. One thing is clear, we won’t surrender meekly.


July 18, 2014 12:09 rlanctot

The time has finally arrived to privatize the safety testing activities of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and to shift the funding model of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety away from the insurance industry. Here’s why.

Thatcham Research in the UK and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are nearly identical organizations founded with nearly identical missions:

“The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads.” - IIHS Website

“Thatcham Research is the motor insurers’ automotive research centre. Established by the motor insurance industry in 1969, the centre’s main aim is to contain or reduce the cost of motor insurance claims whilst maintaining safety standards.” - Thatcham Website

Both organizations help to set safety standards and can ostensibly be held accountable to one degree or another for the rate of highway fatalities in the respective countries. This is a vast oversimplification, but it is intended to call attention to the fact that in the U.S. we are slaughtering approximately 100 people a day on our highways while in the U.K., as of 2010 and according to World Health Organization estimates, about 7 people are dying per day.

To be sure, every fatality is a tragedy and the United Nations is in the midst of its “Decade of Action for Road Safety” while Sweden has adopted “Vision Zero.” Even the newly-elected Mayor of New York has set a goal of zero pedestrian fatalities for the city.

But the shocking truth is that the U.S. is failing badly in preventing highway fatalities. The U.S. has long been a “leader” in killing people with cars, only recently surpassed by Brazil (as a result of a booming auto market and lax safety standards). The difference between the U.S. and the U.K. is just as stark as the difference between the U.S. and Brazil, where the fatality rate is 22 deaths per 100,000 population annually as of 2010.

Of course, the difference between the U.S. and Brazil is more obvious from the standpoint of the quality of the cars and the roads. But an even bigger difference is that the U.S. has a significant safety testing and certification infrastructure that Brazil lacks.

But the safety testing infrastructure in the U.S. is failing. While Thatcham in the U.K. is a powerful advocate for vehicle safety systems – currently pushing for a government subsidy to support the purchase of new cars equipped with automatic emergency braking technology – IIHS offers nothing more than brochures and Website resources. And IIHS executives insist they have nothing to do with lobbying legislators.

The difference between Thatcham and IIHS is that Thatcham goes so far as to quantify the societal benefits of safety system adoption based on its own testing. In fact, Thatcham has taken up the banner of vehicle safety and carried it to international forums to promote its cause of collision avoidance globally.

Says Thatcham on its Website: “Around 23 per cent of new cars on sale today have AEB available as optional or standard fit. Insurers recognise the benefits, with AEB-fitted cars given a rating of as much as five groups lower than their counterparts, and potentially saving up to 10 per cent on insurance premiums.”

Thatcham goes further, stating on its Website:

  • 90 per cent of road crashes are due to human error or distraction
  • £90,000 - total cost of the average injury crash
  • 18% reduction in third party injury claims for AEB-fitted cars
  • 550,000 whiplash claims annually in the UK cost £2B, adding £90 to the average car insurance premium
  • 23% of new cars on sale today have AEB as optional or standard fit
  • Less than 10% cars sold have AEB specified
  • Regulation or Government incentive of £500 needed to accelerate take up

So Thatcham tells the safety story in terms of both societal and consumer financial benefits. IIHS steers clear of suggesting or promoting insurance discounts for safety systems. In fact, more often than not, IIHS either avoids the insurance premium savings conversation entirely or seems to go out of its way to avoid endorsing new technologies as potential life savers – based on the ambiguous findings of its own safety tests – ie. the test outcomes were unclear therefore we cannot endorse technology X.

A typical example comes from IIHS's testing of Volvo safety systems: "This initial analysis of the effect on insurance claims of 4 crash avoidance features, 2 of which are combinations of multiple features, suggests that they are helping drivers avoid some crashes reported to insurers. However, except in the case of Volvo’s steering-responsive headlights, the estimated benefits are not statistically significant. Volvo’s Active Bending Lights reduce PDL claim frequency as well as BI claim frequency, but there was not a corresponding reduction in collision claim frequency."

In other words, you, Mr. Consumer, may as well not bother with these safety systems because they won't save you a nickel on your premium.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that better discounts for safety systems can be found in Europe than in the U.S. And it should also come as no surprise that annual highway fatality rates are almost universally and substantially lower in Europe, with a few exceptions.

Some insurers in the U.S. will offer discounts for some safety systems. But the dominant rating scheme in the U.S. is to focus almost exclusively on the driver and such rating factors as driving history and education, including driver education.

It is true that the roads and the cars and the rules are different in Europe, but the vastly lower fatality rates are hard to ignore. As with so many areas where the U.S. lags – education, healthcare, etc. – we spend more on road safety and get less benefit.

There are two problems with the automotive safety testing regime in the U.S. The pre-eminent safety authority for setting standards and issuing mandates is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA is led by political appointees hamstrung by limited funding options and staffed with engineers buffeted by changing regulatory priorities.

Currently NHTSA is more than five years into a shift in its mission from surviving accidents to preventing them altogether. This shift in focus ought to have produced a complete revamp and re-staffing of the organization to address the modified technical demands of the new mission. Needless to say, the limitations of NHTSA being a government agency prevented any such sea change.

IIHS, too, is hamstrung by its funding model and its own perception of its role. The institute is a non-profit funded by the insurance industry. This puts IIHS in the awkward position of conducting safety research and assigning safety scores for the automotive industry, while its fundamental objective is seeing to the priorities and concerns of the insurance industry – which may conflict with the concerns of both car makers and consumers.

(It is worth noting that apart from IIHS’s research activities, individual insurers in the U.S. do conduct outreach directly with car makers to advise on the construction of cars to enhance safety and reduce the costs of repairs. These activities, which directly relate to Thatcham’s vehicle repair research and protocol development efforts in the U.K., are worthy and ought to continue.)

The government and the insurance industry need to be removed from the safety testing and standards setting activity, which ought to be funded by the industry. Government oversight may be an appropriate role, but not direct government management. The recent spate of recalls including the very public Toyota and GM recall controversies have demonstrated clearly that NHTSA lacks the necessary expertise or the funding necessary to acquire it.

With 100 Americans dying on the highways every day it is clear that we, as a country, can no longer depend on the government or the insurance industry to solve this problem. Vehicle safety should be put into the hands of independent commercial interests charged and evaluated on the basis of protecting consumers and saving lives. We are fighting a war and the body count is rising.


June 14, 2014 23:00 rlanctot

At an International Motor Press Association luncheon in New York City today GlobalAutomakers President and CEO John Bozzella noted that questions were being raised as to how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) might raise the additional $18M budgeted for FY2015 vehicle safety research.  Bozzella said that options on the table included a per-vehicle tax or fee to be paid by consumers or a similar tax or fee to be paid by car makers.  When asked, by this analyst, Bozzella said that he was not aware of any discussion of privatizing NHTSA or any of its functions.

I had asked the question because I believe it is time to consider the privatization option.

NHTSA's FY 2015 budget request totals $851M and includes $152M for vehicle safety research (an $18M increase), $122M for behavioral safety and $577M for state grants and high visibility enforcement support. In light of the rash of recalls blanketing the auto industry, there will be calls for additional funding for safety research. Given the embarrassing revelations implicating NHTSA's inadequate review, research and enforcement of its own safety standards vis-a-vis General Motors in the recent and still unfolding ignition switch recall, now looks like a good time to remove the government from the business of setting and enforcing safety standards.

Further oversight, research and testimony will be required before NHTSA is fully and formally exonerated of any wrong-doing as part of the ignition switch recall, but the fact that the agency is implicated at all in failing to identify the problem and initiate action suggests it is time for a change.  It also recalls the agency's admission of its inability to diagnose the Toyota sudden acceleration case of two years ago.

All indications are that the functional demands of safety research have transcended the agency's ability to keep up and adequately protect the public.  It is time for the government to recognize this fact and rather than throwing good money after bad - shift the safety research functions of the agency to the private sector where the expertise already resides.

This is a particularly important step to take as the automotive safety segment shifts to active from passive safety - requiring an entirely new analytical skill set for divining whether new technologies have prevented accidents - ie. proving a negative.  New skills require new strategies for studying and promoting the adoption of life-saving technologies.  NHTSA is not ever likely to have sufficient resources to keep pace with automotive industry innovation.

Of course, this is a radical concept - so I throw it open to you, the reader.  Is there any good reason for NHTSA to retain its safety investigative, standards-setting and enforcement responsibilities?  What do you think?


June 8, 2014 23:00 rlanctot

It has become fashionable in the auto industry to promise to protect customer privacy. Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board of Management Martin Winterkorn pledged to do just that in a speech before the CeBIT fair in Hannover, Germany, earlier this year. But he was speaking for the entire industry. Car makers want to be perceived as protecting customer information and the security and privacy of the vehicle ownership experience.

The reality is precisely the opposite of these pledges. Car makers and their owned and franchised dealers routinely mine their customer data for valuable nuggets regarding shopping and buying behavior, vehicle ownership, credit scores, service history and anything else they can access.

The ignition switch recall plaguing GM highlights the twisted priorities of the car makers when it comes to the way they handle customer data vs. the manner in which they handle vehicle data. Customer data is more or less freely accessed and traded but vehicle data is guarded and walled off from even internal access at some car makers – but at GM in particular.

The so-called “Valukas Report,” named for report author, Anton Valukas, Chairman of Jenner & Block, a law firm representing GM, notes a culture of don’t-ask-don’t-tell at GM with regard to vehicle data. (Redacted report: http://tinyurl.com/l4htcq5) But the situation is even worse than these findings suggest. Investigators (and even internal GM users) have struggled over the years and even to this day to pry data out of GM’s OnStar division.

Seventeen years after OnStar’s founding president, Chet Huber, set the tone for protecting customer data accessed by OnStar, the division continues to guard both customer and vehicle data long past the point at which it is prudent to do so.  It is time to recognize that vehicle connectivity is no longer about automatic crash notification. 

 

The connected car has come to be defined by an experience enriched by the visibility of vehicle data to analytics for diagnostics, location awareness, driver behavior and, above all, safety.  It is a time for a change in privacy policy and that change can take one of five paths:

 

  1. Government mandated and centralized data sharing for the purpose of enhancing traffic and transportation data, improving vehicle safety, road use taxation, and mitigating driver distraction, harmful emissions and overall highway congestion.

  2. OEM-enabled customer opt-in scenarios with appropriate transparency and data access along with customer control.

  3. Independent third-party access (ie. Google, Verizon, Apple, Amazon, AT&T, State Farm, Allstate, etc.) for commercial purposes – contextual advertising, connected insurance, e-commerce, etc.

  4. A hybrid of the above scenarios.

  5. Complete data shut down.

 

There is little doubt that consumers and auto makers would prefer to keep the government out of the connected car business.  So let’s assume that the most palatable option is #2 – OEM-managed data gathering, interpretation and commercialization.

 

If OEMs are going to manage all access to vehicle data (aside from EDR data which is always subject to subpoena) then it is time to define the architectures to enable data gathering and identify the types of data that will be gathered.  In light of GM’s ignition switch recall, auto industry executives in the future will have a difficult time arguing that they did not know about a particular flaw in their vehicles, especially if the flaw was contributing to fatalities.

 

Connected car technology confers an obligation on auto makers to scrutinize their vehicle data to diagnose and anticipate vehicle failures. Unbeknownst to GM, the company arguably lost its ability to look the other way 17 years ago with the launch of OnStar.

 

As more car makers follow GM along the path of connectivity, the expectations of consumers will increase along with their willingness to share data.  In a recent Strategy Analytics survey of consumer sentiment regarding privacy, respondents universally supported sharing their data if it meant that it would enhance safety.

 

Car makers that insist on protecting customer privacy – along with vehicle data security – will find themselves on the wrong side of history, if not on the wrong side of an investigation.  The moral of the story is clear:  Safety trumps privacy in the auto industry.


June 7, 2014 23:00 rlanctot

I just returned from Telematics Update 2014 in Detroit – the leading global event focused on vehicle connectivity – and I came upon a story on thecarconnection.com regarding a recall on the 2013 Lexus GS350. (You can find the details here: http://tinyurl.com/pd5xkd6) These cars are braking unexpectedly and Lexus is encouraging customers to bring their cars in for a fix … when the parts are available. The thought suddenly popped into my head: What would Tesla do?

The reason I suddenly asked myself this question derived from the following sentence in the online story:

“Owners will receive a letter from Lexus when they are ready to recall the vehicles involved.”

So, let me get this right, the cars can brake unexpectedly. Owners are being notified of this issue by MAIL and will have to wait for the parts.

The automotive industry needs a new standard for customer service and customer communications as well as a better understanding of what a recall is and means. Given Tesla’s recent history of time-warping reactions to vehicle problems and paradigm-shifting customer engagement I think it is fair to say that a good measure of future handling of vehicle failure crises will be to ask: What would Tesla do? (There is a corollary: What would Elon do? – but let’s not get too personal about this.)

 

#1  A recall is by definition an immediate, vehicle safety issue.  Under such circumstances, the postal service will not cut it as a means of customer communication – especially in the event of a vehicle with an on-board modem.  Lexus vehicles are equipped with a system called SafetyConnect. This system should be used to communicate directly with the customer – and the customer shouldn’t have to pay for that service.

 

#2  The customer has rights and should be made aware of those rights and choices.  If the customer is uneasy driving a car with an outstanding recall, the option of a loaner vehicle should be made available.  And notification of the potential failure and recall does not release the car maker from responsibility and liability.

 

Given the recent wave of recalls sweeping the auto industry in the wake of GM’s ignition switch failure crisis, the value of an embedded telematics system in a car has been turned on its head.  No longer will drivers count on OnStar (or a like system) to save them when a vehicle crashes.  The new paradigm will be for car makers to use OnStar-like systems to contact their customers in advance to warn them of a potential vehicle failure.

 

The good news for the industry is that recall notifications are yet another powerful reason for cars to be connected and for those connections to be always live.  Tesla understands this and, for now, is providing an always live connection to its cars at no charge.

 

So, next time a car maker has a recall, or spontaneous vehicle fire, or unexplained failure, or has a newly discovered and potentially life-threatening flaw, the executives at the helm must ask themselves:  What would Tesla do?


April 2, 2014 23:00 rlanctot

Against the depressing tableau of General Motors and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee yesterday over the recent ignition switch recall two inspiring developments impacting vehicle design emerged. GM CEO Mary Barra noted to the panel GM’s consideration of bringing keyless, push-button start technology across its entire line up, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers separately petitioned NHTSA to relax its requirement for a driver side and rearview mirrors.

The proliferation of push-button start technology will obviously remove the electro-mechanical causal element behind the ignition switch failure in question. If there is a single positive element that can emerge from the entire recall debacle this may be it.No mechanical switch, means no ignition switch failure – at least not a mechanical one.

The AAM request for NHTSA to relax Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #111 is intended to enable car makers to replace the driver-side rearview mirror and the internal rearview mirror with camera-based systems. The AAM request coincided with NHTSA’s last-minute decision (in the face of pending legal action) to announce the implementation plan for the rear-visibility mandate.

AAM’s statement: http://www.autoalliance.org/index.cfm?objectid=BE3624F0-B8F3-11E3-AB0B000C296BA163

Removing the driver-side mirror has been suggested by the design of Volkswagen’s XL1 plug-in diesel hybrid which has opted for cameras over mirrors to reduce drag and weight. Tesla, too, with the Model X, has been pushing for this change and joined the AAM's petition. Neither the XL1 nor the Model X will be street legal in the U.S. under current regulations.

At the Geneva Motor Show in March, Nissan demonstrated a camera-based rearview mirror system turning the in-cabin rearview mirror into a display with a panoramic view to the rear of the car. The GM Authority newsletter has reported that GM “is in the process of securing a trademark for the word ‘THRUVIEW.’”

According to GM Authority, the automaker filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Jan. 24, 2014 for a “motor vehicle rear view mirror that can also function as a display monitor to provide a panoramic rear view.”

On a less heartening note, yesterday’s hearing laid bare GM’s failure to resolve the ignition switch problem in a timely manner while NHTSA’s representative, David Friedman, blamed GM for failing to notify the agency of the problem. Consumer advocacy groups found fault with both GM and NHTSA. Both Barra and Friedman are freshman leaders of their respective organizations contributing to the inchoate feeling to the entire proceedings.

During the hearing members of Congress highlighted inconsistent communication between GM and its dealers and between dealers and consumers.  This is another challenge for Barra and GM to resolve.  In the midst of Tesla's challenge to the dealer model of selling cars, GM finds itself more dependent on dealers than it has ever been.  Perhaps this will lead to a re-evaluation of these relationships.

GM CEO Barra repeatedly referred in her testimony to the “new GM” emerging with her appointment and how the old cost-based culture – under which safety concerns were mitigated by cost issues - had been banished. Let’s hope NHTSA sees its own rebirth as a watch dog instead of a lap dog.


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 Topclassactions.com 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.