AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

September 13, 2014 10:06 rlanctot

Nearly a year after its much-touted IPO failed to launch, INRIX has announced that the Porsche family, majority shareholders for Volkswagen AG, are investing $55M for a 10% stake – putting INRIX’s market value at approximately $550M. That value is about half the purported $1B valuation that would have resulted from the company’s original planned IPO.

The investment is a proud moment for INRIX which is battling for survival in a traffic market fought over by Google/Waze, Nokia/HERE and TomTom along with a host of other regional traffic data information providers and various startups. Ever since Waze scored about $1B from Google, entrepreneurs have been battling to find the next Waze-like solution along with Waze-like valuations.

In that respect, the INRIX investment by Porsche though inducing a huge sigh of relief at the Seattle-based company, did not inspire the wider investment community.

The hard truth is that although traffic data may be, in my estimation, the single most important telematics application, the car makers who hold the keys to the market see traffic data as nothing much more than a source of cost. The problem results from the poor quality of early traffic data feeds and the inability of car makers to charge for the same traffic data for which they had to pay – with the exception of SiriusXM and Ford, both of which have subscription-based traffic services.

Google simultaneously put a high value on traffic with the acquisition of Waze and zeroed out that value by giving the service it away. TomTom, INRIX and HERE have soldiered on, enhancing their data feeds and refining their algorithms and securing strategic relationships and contracts.

The potential upside lies in the proliferation of embedded connections in cars. Connected cars are expected to produce valuable probe data and other potential traffic information enhancements capable of delivering forward leaps in performance and customer interest.

The INRIX funding arrives in the heat of a swirl of market speculation regarding acquisitions and partnerships. Samsung was recently rumored to have proffered a $7B bid for Nuance – an acquisition that would have solidified Samsung’s presence in the elusive automotive market.

The Samsung rumor revealed the two-tier nature of the M&A world. As an acquisition candidate you are either a $1B-or-less target (Hughes, Agero, Octo) or a $10B target (Nuance). Of course, there is a third class of <$100M deals (Cobra, Tweddle Connect).

The more fanciful rumors around INRIX had the company either getting a strategic investment from Samsung or getting probe data from Samsung (handsets). Just as in the case of Nuance, an INRIX relationship would have burnished Samsung’s automotive cred, but Samsung clearly faces bigger existential challenges beyond automotive credibility as it experiences pressure from emerging Asian handset rivals.

INRIX may be disappointed in a $550M valuation relative to its original $1B target. The good news is the investment buys the company more time to reinforce its traffic products and services portfolio as it seeks to expand the scope of its service delivery proposition.

Early INRIX investors who were bought out in the Porsche deal are probably sleeping well now. But given the increasing competitive pressure to deliver a Waze-like exit there will be no rest for INRIX employees.


September 8, 2014 14:03 rlanctot

Governments around the world are increasingly obsessed with mandating hardware devices to be built into or attached to cars. If this keeps up, cars are going to start looking like barnacled old whales.

Devices add cost and weight and, in some instances, vastly disrupt supply chains, design cycles and research and development programs. Europe’s eCall and Brazil’s Contran 245 mandates are but two examples of a series of initiatives conceived with the best of intentions that have cost car makers and their suppliers millions of dollars to no purpose.

In Europe, eCall was intended as an automatic crash notification system for alerting emergency responders to accidents. Its implementation was meant to save lives, with some estimates running as high as 2,000 saved lives per year.

Instead, the entire time and money wasting process of defining and adopting eCall has most likely cost lives as the mandate process disrupted car makers’ own plans for ACN systems. After a decade of research, development, standards setting, testing and missed deadlines, the prospect of the first saved life is still years away.

In Brazil, Contran 245 is on a similar trajectory of study and delay. The mandated module intended for tracking and immobilization of stolen vehicles of all types was given yet another delay earlier this year of two years. No cars, trucks or motorcycles have been rescued from theft yet and are not likely to be for another three years.

In spite of the millions of wasted dollars (Reals) and development in Brazil, the Contran 245 program has been successful in two ways. It has attracted significant investment to the rapidly growing Brazilian automotive market (including acquisitions such as Michelin’s purchase of Sascar); and the battle to control the market for embedded modules helped drive down the cost of connectivity hardware globally.

But the ongoing delays in Brazil highlight the shortcomings of the government mandate process. Two years ago, after multiple delays in adoption of the Contran 245 mandate, suppliers notified car companies that they would have to either buy up all the telecom modules that they estimated they would need or they would have to redesign their connectivity devices.

What happened in Brazil was that the delay was so long that suppliers were no longer making the relevant devices. This is happening in Europe as well where eCall was conceived for 2G networks which are now slowly but surely being switched off on the periphery of Europe and which, by the time of implementation, may no longer make sense for an emergency response system.

In an excellent, if a little long, presentation at Insurance Telematics in Chicago last week Cyril Zeller, vice president of global telematics for module maker Telit, detailed the growing roster of mandated vehicle connectivity programs. His list included:

BJ Tolling Auto – 2013 – Netherlands

eCall – 2017 – Europe

Era Glonass – 2015 – Russia

Denatran (Contran 245) – 2016 - Brazil

Monti’s Law – 2012 – Italy

Green Tax – 2013/15 – France/Europe

The U.S. is currently considering mandating a hardware module to enable vehicle-to-vehicle communication. And even the United Nations is considering a global eCall implementation scheme.

Modules for taxation are also in the mix throughout the world. The emergence of alternative fuel vehicles is threatening the gas tax-based highway infrastructure maintenance funding process in the U.S. Individual states led by Oregon are trialing mileage-based taxing schemes managed by installed modules. Even the U.S. Congress has taken up this possibility.

It is increasingly clear that something has got to give. The process of mandating modules is inevitably undermined by the pace of technological advance and market forces. Mandated devices predictably cost millions of dollars to standardize, prototype, test and adopt and invariably end up costing consumers and compromising the integrity and security of the vehicles upon which they are installed.

This week we learn of General Motors’ plans to deploy V2V modules on the 2017 Cadillac CTS. Yet even as it announces its intention to add these devices to these cars, GM acknowledges they will offer little or no value to consumers.

A technology with no proven consumer value would never have been added to a vehicle at the “Old GM” where pennies were pinched. GM’s decision to implement V2V is clearly political, not practical. GM is attempting to both lead the industry and score points with an unhappy regulator: NHTSA. There is no other explanation for adding worthless cost and weight to an already expensive car.

The common thread to most future vehicle connections, with the exception of some RF-based tolling devices, is the telecom module. Regulators obsessed with mandates and modules will be better served by seeking to fit their connectivity requirements – protocols, codes, algorithms, prioritization schemes – into existing wireless standards development activities. For cars, this means focusing on 5G.

By using existing wireless standards regulators will allow consumers to fulfill the connectivity requirements with inexpensive aftermarket devices or their own wireless phones or via embedded telecom modules already built into their cars. Cars like whales are better off unbarnacled.


September 4, 2014 15:43 rlanctot

When companies spend millions of dollars on advertising you assume that they know what they are doing. But I can honestly say that Progressive has lost the thread when it comes to promoting its SnapShot usage-based insurance program on TV.

The SnapShot ads, such as the “peer pressure” campaign pictured, invariably reinforce negative connotations attached to both insurance companies generally and tracking devices particularly. The peer-pressure campaign – which features Progressive’s lovable “Flo” character trying to tempt some teens with a SnapShot device from the shadows outside a convenience store as if it were an illicit drug – follows the “rate suckers” campaign and others.

What is Progressive thinking? Isn’t it enough that Progressive has extracted as much value out of the now-ancient SnapShot campaign as it possibly could? Now the company has to put a negative spin on SnapShot? If there is some sort of irony afoot in the peer pressure ads – it’s-bad-but-it’s-good-for-you? forbidden fruit? – I am missing it and I submit that I am not alone.

The real problem for the industry generally and for Progressive and usage-based insurance in particular is that SnapShot has been conceived – after nearly a decade of testing and prototyping – as a low cost solution intended to deliver lower cost insurance to consumers. Put in that way SnapShot can be seen as a reasonably successful proposition.

But SnapShot was intended as a means to lure customers away from other insurers. This was somewhat successful, but ultimately Progressive had to let its own customers in, thereby muddying the broader corporate goal.

SnapShot was meant to bring in attractive risk prospects – after all, they’d be tested first with SnapShot to determine their eligibility – drawing in the best customers of competing insurers in an otherwise mature marketplace. Selling SnapShot to existing Progressive customers means spending money to give your existing customers additional discounts.

This is assuming that we all buy into the fact that the discounts are actual real discounts from some baseline pool. Industry transparency being what it is, we will simply have to accept that assumption.

The good news and bad news regarding SnapShot is that it has been sufficiently successful to be the envy of the industry, but not successful enough to remove the taint of tracking and privacy violation from the overall usage-based insurance proposition. And, by failing to remove that taint, Progressive may be the greatest single obstacle to UBI becoming a mass-market phenomenon.

More importantly, as a low-cost business model and customer solution, SnapShot eschews any and all value adds from enhanced customer engagement. This reinforces the structural impediments in the industry which influence the all-important broker community, few representatives of which have given an unmitigated embrace to UBI.

The SnapShot device is only installed on the customer’s vehicle for six months and then it is sent back to Progressive. So the device is the equivalent of a risk assessment dipstick with no long-term value proposition for the customer. And it is a tough sell in mass media advertising, because not all customers will qualify.

The shortcomings of the Progressive approach are brought home at this week’s Insurance Telematics event in Chicago where a wide array of smartphone-based solutions and mobile apps are on display for educating consumers on how to improve their driving and thereby lower their insurance rates along with interpreting vehicle data for service memos and repairs. By turning its back on value add, Progressive’s industry leadership threatens to drive UBI insurance into a ditch.

In contrast to the negative advertising messages broadcast across the U.S. by Progressive, dozens of competitors are bringing clever new solutions and systems to the market intended to enable data portability (from insurer to insurer) and even smartphone-based enhancements such as emergency crash notification. A few companies stand out and are worthy of mention including: Driveway, DriveFactor, Baselinetelematics, Zubie and Agero. (There are many more - forgive me for not naming all.)

Some, like Driveway, are taking the pains to demonstrate that smartphone-based data is as good as or better than data extracted from an OBDII plug-in device – as is used by Progressive. Others, like Baselinetelematics, are showing how vehicle data – along with historical service and warranty information – can be used to create a more holistic customer relationship.

OBDII devices are under fire this year in light of the recent American Family Insurance recall of its own OBDII device (http://tinyurl.com/kd5ulzv Car insurance company recalls monitoring device). But most think the recall was an over-reaction and that OBDII devices, properly configured and deployed, are working and will continue to work well for consumers and the industry.

As for Flo lurking in the shadows tossing OBDII devices to teens? Progressive needs to get with the flow. The insurance industry is on a trajectory toward universal application of UBI underwriting. We won’t achieve this objective with negative messages.


August 27, 2014 20:43 rlanctot

News that GM was “deleting” (in industry jargon) HD Radio from the 2015 Impala had radio industry executives concocting a variety of conspiracy theories this week.  It is the vogue in the broadcast industry to predict the demise of the in-dash radio.  Each turn of the knob becomes yet another indicator of the end of the radio world as we know it.

The real news flash from the HD Radio end of the dial is that just as many new GM “platforms” are adding HD Radio as are dropping – so the net is no change and the long-term outlook is for continued broad-based deployment.  But the news of the tweak in availability for the Impala highlights a bigger issue playing out in increasingly digital dashboards: access to traffic information.

The most readily available, and usually free, traffic information service is the one accessible via the broadcast signal – the radio.  Car radios deliver traffic information via broadcast announcers sharing the observations of spotters and government supported data feeds, and via side-band or digital signals (RDS-TMC/analog or T-PEG/digital).

In North America, the means of delivering traffic information includes digital and analog broadcast signals (the car radio), SiriusXM satellite radio (subscription based and using existing radio hardware) and IP-based delivery (via an embedded modem or connected smartphone).  Aside from the satellite delivery, the same communication channels are available in Europe and other overseas markets.

Examples of IP-delivered traffic include apps such as Waze or INRIX, along with a host of others including HERE and Beat the Traffic and Google.  In fact, the lack of digital radio channels – as in the case of Europe – has caused automakers such as Audi to send the T-PEG traffic information (which is too large for the analog channel) via embedded cellular connections.

This is where things get confusing.  For a car company such as GM, the suspicion is that if the 2015 Impala is going to lose HD Radio, then GM’s plan must be to push streaming audio over the embedded Gen 10 OnStar LTE modem.  But it is unlikely that this was the intention behind the HD Radio deletion.

Still, the decision shines a light on a challenge facing the industry globally.  Multiple channels for the delivery of traffic information are available – including multiple choices in most cars.

A driver of a GM vehicle can listen to the local broadcast traffic report, or switch to subscription-based SiriusXM’s NavTraffic service and see the traffic visualized on the in-dash navigation map, or listen to the broadcast traffic feed on the appropriate SiriusXM channel corresponding to the local market (which may not correlate to the NavTraffic information.) 

HD Radio is capable of delivering yet another source of traffic information based on the T-PEG standard, though GM has not implemented this capability yet.  This traffic information is capable of enhancing on-board navigation and route guidance.

GM is in the process of introducing yet another traffic option, either from INRIX or TrafficCast, both of which are vying to deliver an IP-based traffic feed capable of integrating GM probe data.  And, finally, should GM successfully implement Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto smartphone integrations there will be yet another source of traffic information.

Navigation supplier Telenav is also in the mix at GM and Telenav works with both TomTom and INRIX traffic information sources.  In the end, the least common traffic denominator in GM vehicles is most likely XM NavTraffic - available on Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet vehicles.  But changes may be coming to GM.

GM is not alone in confronting an embarrassment of traffic information riches.  And since traffic is the single most important telematics application, it seems wise that GM do its best to determine whether it wants to deliver traffic information for free via analog or digital radio signals, via subscription (SiriusXM), or via the embedded modem or connected smartphones – or all of the above.

GM may be tempted, like other OEMs, to continue to offer all options and let the customer decide.  But the embedded modem offers the advantage of two-way transmission – with the car sharing its location Waze-like and thereby enhancing the accuracy of the traffic info – assuming the owner of the car opts into sharing his or her location.

Free traffic information via the radio is an appealing and near-universal value proposition that we all take for granted.  Subscription-based services and IP-based traffic feeds are compelling, but they can also be expensive and complicated to use.

Is GM’s dialing back on HD Radio a precursor to doing away with the AM/FM dial altogether?  Not likely.  Does GM and every other OEM have some tough decisions to make regarding traffic information strategy.  Definitely.  If I were dialing in my traffic strategy, the last thing I’d do is delete an information resource that was more or less free of charge.


August 22, 2014 13:16 rlanctot

So says Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Part 2.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri might have been expressing similar sentiments when she incredulously inquired as to how GM Executive Vice President and Lead Counsel Michael Millikin and Lucy Clark Doughtery, Lead Counsel for North America, had kept their jobs in the wake of GM's recent and ongoing ignition switch recall debacle. “In the aftermath of (the Valukas) report, how in the world did Michael Millikin keep his job?” McCaskill asked GM CEO Mary Barra.

It is a stunning reversal for GM’s legal department, which was once led by Harry Pearce, who is still remembered for his forensic takedown of NBC’s Dateline expose of GM pickup truck fires in the early ‘90’s. Pearce led a team that revealed the embarrassing pickup truck fire videos to have been created by the use of incendiary devices planted by NBC technicians. NBC subsequently apologized for the misleading broadcast. Pearce’s work was a huge and desperately needed morale boost for GM at the time.

Pearce is also remembered for having led the charge to implement GM’s Project Beacon, which ultimately gave the industry OnStar. It was Pearce’s voice that won the debate as to whether to move forward with OnStar.

While Pearce established his reputation as a product liability litigator defending corporations such as GM, he is remembered at GM for both the Dateline episode and his contribution to OnStar’s adoption. Today, GM’s attorneys and those of many other car makers are more likely to be found wringing their hands standing in the path of new technology deployment rather than greasing the skids.

Liability, privacy, safety and security are the pillars of legal resistance to technological progress in the automotive industry. Rather than stepping forward to show the way to overcome these obstacles, OEM legal teams are more focused on fleeing from responsibility and ducking moral obligations.

The latest pothole on the road to progress is software over the air updates. Legal eagles at OEMs refuse to bless OTA technology until someone in the organization can guarantee that all software updates will occur reliably and verifiably at the highest level of confidence. Rather than accepting 99% levels of confidence, these barristers would see 0% adoption to avoid the fallout from the 1% of potential failure.

Let’s turn back the clock to GM’s deliberations over the adoption of OnStar. Here is the account of OnStar’s first president, Chet Huber, from his book “Detour:”

“In one of the ‘chock full o’ lawyers’ meetings that was supposed to finally be the end to the project, Harry listened patiently to all of the arguments about why this was such a bad idea. There really wasn’t much dissension, aside from Ken’s (Enborg) loud and vocal defense. Otherwise, it was more like a feeding frenzy, with numerous one-upmanship examples that all seemed to end the same way – with us somehow causing a car full of nuns to get stuck on some railroad track and get wiped out by a speeding train.

"When they’d all exhausted themselves, which takes a while with lawyers showing off for their boss, Harry finally spoke up. He asked the room a question: ‘If one hundred cars crash and they don’t have something like OnStar on board, how many of them will call for help?’ It was quiet. Then he asked, ‘Now, how many out of a hundred OnStar-equipped cars that crash will need to call for help before we’d be more wrong for holding back a potentially lifesaving technology like this than we would be for putting it in?’… This was an early example of Harry helping to define what ‘doing the right thing’ looked like at OnStar.”

GM, and by extension the entire automotive industry, needs a few dozen Harry Pearce’s – lawyers who will speed the adoption of new technologies rather than providing legal cover for avoiding innovation. Over-the-air software updates, autonomous vehicles, long-range electric cars, smartphone integration, advanced safety systems, telematics – all of these technologies face legal barriers to wider adoption and exploitation and each of these technologies has the ability to save lives or save the environment.

Sometimes looking out for the best interests of your employer means confronting inconvenient opportunities and clearing the way for progress. I can't believe that Tesla and Google don't employ their own legal teams. Maybe superior legal advice is the true secret sauce behind the auto industry's exposed Silicon Valley flank.


August 20, 2014 12:24 rlanctot

The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking to mandate the installation of a device in cars for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. For some reason the agency fails to perceive that there is already a life-saving device in the car. That device is called a wireless phone.

The wireless phone is typically acquired voluntarily by the driver. It is capable of communicating with other drivers as well as with law enforcement and emergency responders. It is also capable of receiving emergency alerts.

Depending on how the phone is configured it can be set to automatically make emergency calls. And in some cars – notably from Chrysler and Ford in the U.S. – the phone can make approved automatic crash notification calls to summon assistance in the event of a collision.

The wireless phone is normally equipped with the latest wireless network technology and is therefore never at risk of being outmoded by a transition to new technology or by the shutoff of a particular network or piece of wireless spectrum. The device is also possessed of extraordinary processing power and a variety of sensors for positioning and location. It is also equipped for voice, data, video, and text communications.

The device itself is usually replaced on a regular basis to take advantage of advances in technology. Software updates for the device are free of charge and accomplished safely whether the device is in use or not.

Applications exist to enable the wireless phone to communicate with infrastructure and with other vehicles. And some apps (Global Mobile Alert) will alert drivers (who may be distracted by wireless phone calls) to dangerous driving circumstances such as the proximity of intersections or railroad crossings.

Wireless phones using applications such as Driveway can evaluate driving behavior and provide suggestions for safer driving behavior. Multiple applications are available for tracking location via the mobile phone for worried family members or friends as well as to alert them based on geo-fencing.

But the very best aspect of the wireless phone is that it is brought into the car voluntarily at no added cost to the car maker or customer. Deployment of the technology is immediate as are the benefits. Best of all it is demand-driven – no coercion is required.

Even better, no prototyping, testing, or assessment of user interfaces is needed. And there is no requirement for dedicated, protected spectrum or protracted comment periods for car makers, consumers or suppliers. No new standards, consortia, testbeds or congressional hearings.

Bottom line: The U.S. Department of Transportation needs to take a closer look at wireless phones as a means for achieving communications between vehicles or between vehicles and their drivers and infrastructure. Mandating a module is a dead end deal.


August 19, 2014 15:24 rlanctot

Yesterday I said buh-bye to UBI car insurance. UBI is the acronym given by the insurance industry to the service based on a tracking device being installed in the insured driver’s car. It stands for usage-based insurance.

I had been a State Farm customer for approximately 15 years. And my participation in State Farm’s UBI program ought to have cemented our relationship. Instead, the UBI program was irrelevant.

This powerful new customer connection – UBI - did not lead to a change in how State Farm interacted with me. And that failure is just one of many reasons UBI insurance is struggling to achieve wider traction.

Progressive was the pioneer of UBI insurance and its Snapshot modules have been installed (temporarily) in more than a million vehicles for the purposes of determining an optimized insurance rate based on driving behavior. The program was conceived to:

1) Provide a more accurate calculation of risk

2) Provide a conditional manner for insuring high-risk drivers

3) Attract and poach low-risk drivers from competitors

4) Reduce customer churn

5) Lower the costs associated with claims management*

6) Speed up claims*

*These aims are not served by Progressive's Snapshot

In the U.S., as in my case, the customer-facing purpose of UBI insurance is to get a deeper insurance discount. Most programs – currently offered by dozens of insurance companies around the U.S. – offer a 5% upfront signing discount with potential discounts of as much as 30% on premiums. Those discounts are based on driving behavior scores which are derived from devices affixed to the driver’s vehicle. There are also smartphone-based solutions.

As I discovered, bigger discounts are available simply by changing insurance carrier. Conventional insurance programs with features such as Liberty Mutual’s “accident forgiveness” and Nationwide’s “vanishing deductible” resonate more powerfully, especially since they tend to be uniformly offered throughout the U.S.

I participated in State Farm’s Drive Safe and Save program for the past year. I have written and spoken about my experience frequently. I left the State Farm program because Liberty Mutual – approaching me as a result of my ownership of a BMW – offered to insure my car and my wife’s car at approximately 50% of the rate I was paying State Farm.

This is no reflection on the UBI program offered by State Farm. The UBI device from State Farm (which I will now have to mail back) worked just fine, the consumer portal worked just fine, the annual discount seemed generous ($200+), and the added value services worked as promised. And I had no complaints about my State Farm agent, with whom I now have a strong relationship.

In fact, I would have signed up for Liberty Mutual’s Right Track UBI program if it were available in Virginia, which it is not. It is available in 22 other states.

In the end, the conventional policy from Liberty Mutual represented too good of an offer to pass up. The sticking point, in retrospect, appears to have been an accident/claim from three years ago, the details of which beyond the amount (~$2,000) I can no longer remember. That accident is still within the three-year window that is keeping my State Farm rate in an unacceptable range.

But the bigger issue is the lack of transparency in the insurance industry. And that lack of transparency extends not only to the driver/customer, but also to the broker. This is where the industry needs to be rewired.

My State Farm agent noted that most of what goes on in State Farm’s underwriting black box is completely opaque to him. He is aware that factors affecting rates are changing on a daily basis, affecting the quotes he is giving, but he does not understand why and he has no visibility to when.

In his immortal words: “Everything is being thrown at me except what I need.”

So State Farm failed me and is failing its own agents.

State Farm had a privileged relationship with me that is now lost. The company had a module in my car that was reporting on my driving behavior – speed, time of day, acceleration, turns, and amount – whenever I or my wife drove our vehicles.

The information was shared with me on a portal with some limited interactive capabilities. State Farm also had a mobile app, though I never successfully used this.

The presence of the Drive Safe & Save device in my car opened a door for State Farm to fundamentally alter the consumer-insurer relationship. State Farm could have:

1) Advised me as to how to improve my driving and thereby increase my discount.

2) Compared my driving to the aggregated driving behavior of other drivers.

3) Offered me rewards for better driving.

4) Notified me of negative factors – tickets, accidents – impacting my rate.

Needless to say, State Farm did not do any of this. It was a missed opportunity. But that failure was felt by my agent as well.

I would have benefited from a graphic on my bill or Web portal indicating when particular accidents or infractions might expire from my underwriting score. My agent, too, could benefit from notifications regarding scoring updates impacting his customers.

A driver’s given rate might change on a daily basis, according to my agent, though he has no way of easily seeing that. Can you imagine your auto insurance agent calling you to let you know your rate had gone down? That is a relationship changer.

(The Liberty Mutual agent was able to call up the Clue Report to access my claims history. The State Farm agent could only refer to my file – he did not have access to the same resources as the Liberty Mutual Agent.)

Consumers are entitled to see what factors are affecting their rate. Driving history, credit record, and location are the main factors, but there are others. Just as consumers can access their credit reports, their driving history should be integrated into their insurance portals and bills. I felt a little strange that I had to ask my broker about my own driving history. If this information is publicly available insurance companies should help to make it more accessible to consumers.

Full disclosure of the factors, if not the balancing of those factors, should be required and might contribute to creating a higher degree of customer trust. But the industry won’t be able to fix this trust factor until agents are treated better.

Car insurance providers such as State Farm and Allstate employ upwards of 15,000 independent agents interacting with customers on a daily basis. These agents should have customer dashboards to alert them to driving-related events that will impact their customers’ rates, and they should also have live feeds to alert them to changes in rating criteria that impact customers’ current rates.

For the most part, insurance agents are flying blind. This blindness contributes to the lack of consumer trust and undermines the ability of the industry to adopt new technology, such as telematics, for tracking customers and delivering a service based on a more accurately calculated risk assessment.

And make no mistake, the adoption of telematics will require trust.

The game is changing to one of connected drivers. It isn’t enough to have customers plug in a box and get a 5% discount – especially if they can save more by switching providers. A new connection calls for a new paradigm of customer engagement. State Farm missed the connection.

I agreed to take my State Farm agent’s call in December when my three-year-old accident will no longer mar my driving record and my discount. We’ll see if State Farm can re-connect.

Please join me @ Insurance Telematics Sept. 3-4 at the Radisson Blu in Chicago - http://tinyurl.com/cpw8mz4


August 12, 2014 16:12 rlanctot

This is a follow-up to the original blog: http://tinyurl.com/mhk5upj

So let me make sure I get this right. Hackers Charlie Miller, security engineer for Twitter, and Chris Valasek, (left) director of security intelligence at IOActive:

1) “Hacked” into a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape.

2) Shared the details of their “exploit.”

3) Published a list of the Top 20 Hackable Cars.

4) Introduced a device to detect and prevent hacks.

Now let’s break it down further. Miller and Valasek’s work:

1) Embarrassed Toyota and Ford and, by extension, the makers of the cars on the Top 20 list that received failing grades.

2) Used their non-automotive expertise to broadly cast doubt on all vehicle security.

3) Scared and misled consumers about the current state of vehicle security and the implications for drivers and vehicle owners.

Miller and Valasek shared nothing about the automotive security work of groups such as:

1) Standards-setting bodies - ISO, SAE, JEITA, ITS Forum, GenIVI or AGL

2) EVITA – E-Safety Vehicle Intrusion Protected Applications

3) PRESERVE –Preparing Secure e-Vehicle-X Communication Systems

4) DARPA’s HACMS – High-Assurance Cyber-Military Systems

5) Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers/GlobalAutomakers – plan to create an industry sector information sharing and analysis center.

6) Battelle’s CyberAuto Challenge

7) DEFCON – (Automotive industry participation)

8) escar – Embedded Security in Car conference.

This is to say nothing of the ongoing work taking place across the entire automotive eco-system.

Everyday, hardware, software, semiconductor and service provider organizations are seeking and implementing solutions to automotive security challenges from proliferating wireless interfaces down to board-level silicon.

As alcoholics say, if you are trying to solve the problem, you have to start going to meetings. There are plenty of organizations with plenty of meetings, gentlemen. Pick one.

Lobbing hand-grenades over the wall to prove the existence of security weaknesses is unhelpful, self-serving and pointless. Confusing and misleading consumers about the true scope of the problem and potential remedies is reprehensible.


August 10, 2014 16:31 rlanctot

J.D. Power waded into the swamp of automotive voice recognition technology last week at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City.  JDP’s executive director of driver interaction, Kristin Kolodge, presented slides and videos to show JDP’s assessment of the abysmal state of VR today.

Kristin said JDP’s annual Initial Quality Study of vehicles sold in the U.S. revealed VR tech as the most common type of “malfunction.”  VR was to blame for one-third of infotainment system failures – which is significant since infotainment systems have emerged in the past few years as the single biggest source of failures in new cars.

Kristin’s prescription, according to the report on her talk in Automotive News, was to get back to basics – that automakers should give up trying to add new features.  This recommendation alarmed me because the industry is actually on the verge of a major industrywide upgrade to natural language speech recognition and this is no time to turn back.

Recognizing that it had a problem on its hands with VR technology, most car makers have been turning in the direction of the skid.  Car makers see that they need to do better and that doing better means bringing automotive grade speech recognition systems to cars that adapt to humans rather than forcing humans to adapt to them.

There are several problems with VR today and they include:

Overly specific menus and poorly conceived architectures

Attempts to use voice recognition where it is an inappropriate interface

Multiple on-board speech recognition systems

Voice interfaces that work with some apps and not others

Confusing cues

Speaking to an inanimate object is an unnatural act, so there is no surprise that getting consumers to change their behavior is a big step.  Ford took the biggest step by making speech recognition the focal point of the original SYNC system.  But Ford changed its VR architecture and expanded the vocabulary with SYNC Gen 2 with disastrous results.

The problem is that once consumers have had a bad experience, it is tough to win them back.  And winning consumers back to automotive VR is important because VR is a powerful tool for combatting driver distraction.

Unfortunately, VR systems on the road today - most of which were designed or created three yeras ago - actually create distraction.  So let’s quickly review where we are headed with speech recognition:

NLU is the future of VR in the car

Whether you look to AT&T’s Watson or Nuance’s Dragon Drive or to VoiceBox’s conversational recognizer, VR tech is rapidly becoming a more natural experience in the car thanks to natural language understanding (NLU).  It is true that Apple’s Siri and Google Voice work impressively on mobile devices held close to the mouth, but in the car, automotive grade systems optimized for the automotive environment and automotive use cases are best.

Learning and Personalization

VR suppliers are increasingly integrating abilities into the NLU systems that introduce learning capabilities.  A standout in this area is MeMeMe Mobile which personalizes speech recognition to the speaker for use within and beyond the car.

Application Focus

Drivers want a reliable VR solution for hands-free access to telephony, navigation (destination entry!) and audio.  All other functions in the car – such as HVAC – are best handled with other types of controls.  But appropriate integration of VR technology is key.  You may use voice to look up an audio track, but a manual control to increase the volume.

Reducing Distraction

Luxury cars are already reading text messages and emails and allowing drivers to respond in a hands-free or, preferred, an automated manner.  The influential California legislature has considered banning this type of functionality, but, if implemented properly and without legislative interference, such a capability could be a useful distraction mitigation tool.

JDP’s IQS study is an important bellwether for the automotive industry.  But let’s not forget that the perennially grumpy users responding to JDP’s study are using three-year-old technology.  Advances in automotive VR are closer than they may appear to be when looking at today’s new cars.


August 9, 2014 14:15 rlanctot

The Annual Traverse City Management Briefing Seminar quietly concluded this week without shedding any newsworthy light on the future of alternative powertrains, the realistic prospects for autonomous vehicles or the ongoing impact of China on vehicle design and production.  Also missing was a presentation explaining how the auto industry was going to overcome the worst year on record for vehicle recalls.  And no one mentioned the ongoing carnage on U.S. highways – nearly 100 daily fatalities.

If it weren’t for a stirring, from the heart and straight from the shoulder, speech from Fiat’s Sergio Marchione (who was coincidentally briefing financial analysts away from the event), I am sure the attendees will have spent much of their time sleeping off their cocktails or working on their golf strokes.

Full Automotive News coverage can be found here: http://www.autonews.com/section/tcity

I got to thinking about Traverse City because I am preparing to moderate a panel at an overseas event and the sponsor and operator of the event wants to put its customers on the panel I am moderating.  My thought was that it will be more interesting to put the customers’ customers on the panel – they are more likely to speak freely.

Free speech was in short supply at Traverse City, at least until Marchione stepped to the lectern.  Marchione spoke freely about wanting to claw back the profits his suppliers are bragging about every quarter in their financial reports.  This perspective was in conflict with the more palliative comments of those same suppliers, many of whom spoke at the event of a new age in the automotive industry when auto makers will no longer hammer their suppliers chipping away at those profit margins.

These auto industry suppliers – nVidia and Delphi notably among them - were surfacing an issue which has crept to the forefront of the automotive industry and which the industry itself is still struggling to manage.  The average car now has more than 100M lines of code on board.  The software content is gradually coming to eclipse the hardware content in the car. 

Sourcing software is a far more complex exercise than sourcing hardware.  What are you buying as a car maker?  Bits and bytes?  Software code?  Do you own that code or do you rent it?  Does your supplier own that code or is it open source?  How do you maintain and/or replace that code?  And where does liability reside?

 

For years the automotive industry has been pursuing a strategy of segregating hardware from software, while suppliers have been fighting to keep hardware and software firmly stitched together in competitive bids. 

By selling hardware and software as a package, Tier 1 suppliers may feel they have more pricing flexibility.  Now, even Harman has acknowledged the ascendance of software.  Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal recently told Bloomberg in an interview that his intention is to reduce the companies hardware manufacturing activities and shift its focus to software, which already represents 75% of Harman's revenue. ttp://tinyurl.com/oa5hbv8 - Harman Stakes Future in Software as Autos Become Smarter)

 

Unfortunately, car makers are increasingly determined to segregate these two pieces.  The net result is that contract manufacturers have emerged to compete with and sometimes partner with Tier 1s while software only integrators have proliferated.  Tier 1s that might have played fast and loose in their bids – offering “integration” for “free” may have painted themselves into a corner. 

All suppliers are putting a price tag on integration these days.  In fact, integration has become a “thing.”

Tier 1 suppliers from Bosch and Continental to Delphi, Magna and Denso are caught up in this battle to either preserve their hardware/software packages or create separate software teams to pursue RFQs with segregated hardware and software requirements.  But it is more complex than that, as auto makers have sought to take ownership of the software code and related intellectual property.

Missing from the Traverse City event was a voice from the software side of the industry.  Stuffy old Traverse City

(50 years running) missed the email once again – nary a word was heard of open source software, Google/Android or Linux.  The most likely source of such a perspective was John Ellis of Ford, who participated on the “Designing for Technology and the Customer” panel.

John is a truth talker, but I’m not sure the Traverse City crowd was ready for two double shots of espresso in one week.  Marchione surely left a few headaches and upset stomachs in his wake.

Just as Google was not represented at the Traverse City event there was also no speaker from a wireless carrier, a Chinese car maker, Tesla Motors, a leading dealer organization (with the possible exception of Joe Carlier, senior vice president of Penske Logistics) or a single car owner – or even a victim of a car crash resulting from a vehicle defect.

The rising influence of software is transforming the automotive industry.  To preserve its relevance, the Traverse City Management Briefing Seminars needs to integrate a powerful voice for the role of software in vehicle design and operation.  How about a panel on the role of GenIVI, AUTOSAR and model-based software?  How about a panel on the challenge in finding enough programmers to fulfill the industry's requirements.  Even powertrains come with engine controls, after all.

 

It would also be helpful to include a voice from the wireless industry – since vehicle connectivity and software updates are rapidly becoming de rigueur.  Tesla anyone?

We’ll see if the Center for Automotive Research can reverse this Traverse City travesty.  If it continues on its current trajectory, your time on the Upper Peninsula, if you go next year, will be better spent on the golf course.