AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

April 2, 2014 11:46 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.


March 28, 2014 01:05 rlanctot

Volvo is commencing a test of existing wireless networks to communicate road conditions.  The brilliance of Volvo's strategy lies in its simplicity - using existing on-board vehicle connections to enhance safety for all drivers - and in the process stealing a march on the V2V community, determined as it is to have a dedicated module using dedicated spectrum to perform such tasks.

This analyst has long sought inclusion of LTE technology and smartphones in V2V tests to contrast and compare the performance of wireless network technology against purpose-built devices.  Volvo Car Group (Volvo Cars), the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens Vegvesen) are joining forces in the pilot project in which road friction information from individual cars will be  shared within a cloud-based system.

The parties to the test envision real-time data about slippery patches on the road being shared with other drivers and road authorities with the intent of enhancing safety.  Of course, with the proliferation of on-board cameras and embedded wireless connections, the potential to extend the pilot to hyper-local weather analysis, wet road surface reporting and other related applications are glaringly obvious.

According to contacts at the U.S. Department of Transportation, as much as 70% of road accidents occur when roads are wet. One of the greatest challenges in managing traffic is the acquisition of hyper-local data.  There is no doubt that Volvo executives are aware that they are on to something - that tracking slick roads is only the beginning.

On-board cameras tied to historical traffic data could be triggered to transmit images to off-board services at any time real-time driving conditions are out of sync with historical expectations - jams when there should be free flow or free flow when there should be a jam.  Multiple organizations are seeking to tap into fleet resources and fixed traffic cameras to get more accurate assessments of hyper-local traffic.

Rather than wait for some pie-in-the-sky V2V mandate, Volvo is taking the challenge of enhancing road safety to the crowd and the cloud leveraging on-board connections to communicate conditions to other drivers and traffic authorities.  The brilliance of this plan will no doubt be widely embraced across the industry - perhaps even for connected smartphones in cars.  We look forward to the results of the pilot.


March 25, 2014 12:00 rlanctot

The auto industry, insurance industry and Northern California’s AAA organization saw a collision of their interests over a bill, SB 994, proposed in the California legislature to put control of vehicle data in the hands of consumers. The broad outlines of the bill, crafted by the Northern California branch of AAA, which offers auto insurance services to its members, includes the following consumer protections (in the words of the bill’s sponsors):

Disclosure: Ensure consumers are informed and understand what information is being collected and what is transmitted to the automaker.

Access: Ensure consumers have access to their car information and prohibit automakers from creating exclusive systems.

Choice: Ensure consumers have the right to control who can access their car information and designate other service providers to receive their information to provide needed and wanted services.

More details: http://calstate.aaa.com/about-aaa/press-room/legislation-announced-to-provide-consumers-rights-to-control-their-own-car-data

The importance of the legislation derives from California’s outsize impact on the global automotive industry which originated with the influence of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) on vehicle emissions standards around the world and is directly related to the size of the California new car market.  Automobile regulations enacted by California’s legislature have global impacts and for that reason attention is being paid and negative reaction from the automotive industry was swift.

Reaction: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2014/03/control-of-car-data-at-stake-in-bill-monning-bill.html

While California and the SB994 sponsor AAA of Northern California have identified a problem – the preservation of the driver’s privacy and access and control of their vehicle data – the initiative flies in the face of competing Federal regulatory activity intended to connect all vehicles to one another in the interest of safety.  Further, the preservation of driver privacy has been rendered ambiguous by the integration of mobile phones capable of tapping into on-board vehicle data.

Car makers have just begun to create smartphone apps and customer portals allowing consumers to access their vehicle data.  These efforts, which are intended to raise consumer awareness of their vehicle data in the interest of improving vehicle care and driving behavior, may well be nipped in the bud if disclosure requirements create a data-sharing boogeyman.

 

In some respects, AAA Northern California should be seeking the reverse of a privacy initiative.  Wouldn't it make more sense to require car companies to take responsibility for collecting vehicle data in the interest of preserving driver safety in the event of a potential system failure?  AAA seems to have gotten itself tangled up in the wrong side of this argument - fighting against the interests of its own members.

The irony is that California already limits the kind of data auto insurers can use for usage-based insurance programs, such as those offered by AAA, raising questions about why AAA Northern California would “wave the bloody shirt” of vehicle data privacy in the first place.  This is a problem already in the process of being solved by the industry and legislation of this kind is redundant, misleading and self-defeating for those parties interested in improving driving safety.  And no doubt existing privacy disclosure requirements ought to be sufficient. 

One possible exception is the access to vehicle data by independent car repair shops.  The auto industry and the independent repair industry are locked in a battle over the so-called “right to repair,” but this issue, too, seems to have already been resolved by previous legislation - in California no less


March 22, 2014 17:34 rlanctot

A report in Automotive News this week noted the extraordinary lengths to which General Motors (GM) is going to prepare and support dealers taking on the recently announced 1.6M vehicle recall.  The effort includes an outreach to multiple rental car organizations, ramped up replacement part production, $500 new car discounts and extended insurance coverage.

But is it enough – and are there larger lessons for the industry as a whole to learn?

GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, has stepped forward to accept the challenge to turn this apparent corporate baptism by fire into a turning point for the company – embracing responsibility for the ignition switch flaw.  Barra’s move is reminiscent of her comment to the Fortune Magazine “Most Powerful Women Summit” last October prior to her appointment as CEO: “No more crappy cars.”

Maybe crappy cars aren’t the problem – maybe its crappy customer relationships that are at the heart of the matter.  It is worth noting that GM’s recall occurs against the backdrop of  Tesla’s failed attempt to maintain its existing retail presence in New Jersey (tinyurl.com/jwa5n3x  - New Jersey's Tesla Smackdown Is Fair, but Dumb) in the face of legislative opposition fueled by franchise dealer angst and lobbying muscle.

For all her good intentions, Barra begins her GM tenure with a charge of $300M to the first quarter earnings report to cover the cost of the recall.  And the value of having a large franchise dealer network to handle the necessary work and customer interactions could not be more obvious.

The larger issue, though, is that there is clearly a price to pay for failing to anticipate or respond to vehicle problems as early as possible.  Toyota learned this to the tune of $1.2B last week.  And Volkswagen, in China, felt a $480M bite last year from a 384,000-vehicle recall in that country.

The difference between GM and its two largest competitors is the presence of the OnStar system, which is now factory fit in nearly every GM vehicle (in the U.S.).  With cars lasting, on average, more than 11 years, the presence of the on-board telecommunications module ought to represent a huge competitive advantage for connecting with customers and connecting customers with their dealers.

Factor in the need to reach out to original as well as second and third owners to notify them of potentially life threatening recall-related repairs to their cars and the purpose and value of that on-board connection changes considerably.  GM has been operating OnStar for 17 years and yet, in that entire period of time, has never seen fit to make available to the customer a free level of service that would provide for vehicle diagnostics and safety communications TO the vehicle over an extended period of time.

But GM is not alone.  Few car makers offer any kind of extended free period of vehicle connectivity. 

BMW announced a move to 10 years of free service in the U.S. last year.  (Back in Germany, BMW only offers three years of free service.)  The 10 years of free service in the U.S. not only includes the automatic crash notification function, but also scheduled and condition-based maintenance notifications and service scheduling from the car.  Hyundai, too, has opted for three years of free service.

All of this comes to my mind as I look at two recent recall letters I received for my wife’s Toyota Sienna.  Both of these documents note that if the repairs related to the recalls have already been made, my wife and I will have to produce a range of relevant documents in order to be reimbursed.

This is the real reason for this blog.  With cars lasting more than 11 years, car makers need to change the way they engage with their customers.  The purchase of a car is usually the beginning of a long-term relationship or, if not, it is the beginning of a long voyage for the vehicle.

A vehicle with a built-in telecom module has the power to preserve a connection between the car maker and the dealer and the vehicle (if not the original customer) for a decade or more.  And in the event of vehicle recalls, there is a powerful safety-related reason to maintain that connection.

Regarding the reimbursement documentation, if a related repair has been performed on the vehicle there ought to be a record stored somewhere accessible to the customer and the dealer to verify the work was performed.  Requiring the customer to prove the repair was done, obviating the need for the recall work, is annoying to say the least and brand alienating for sure.

Every car maker needs to rethink its telematics strategy to better connect with customers over the long term and to make better use of diagnostics systems.  The value of the customer connection is obviously in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

And keeping customers devoted to your brand is important as well.  We now know – thanks to GM’s head of global quality and customer experience Alicia Boler-Davis – that a percentage point of improved customer retention is worth $700M. (http://tinyurl.com/lzc634c)

Customers are entitled to portals and apps where vehicle data and history can be accessed.  Car makers should not be forcing consumers to turn to third-parties such as Carfax to discover (the sometimes partial and inaccurate) history of their vehicle.

Built-in connectivity can be used to communicate with original and second and third owners of the car.  Not unlike Sirius XM, OnStar and other telematics services should be transferrable and a free basic level of service provided for – at the very least to communicate safety-related recall information in a timely manner.

It’s still not too late for GM to seize this opportunity to transform its customer relationships in a more positive direction and leverage the extraordinary advantage manifest in the OnStar service.  And for the industry, the arrival of vehicle connectivity is an opportunity to eliminate crappy customer service for good.


March 21, 2014 03:09 rlanctot

Volkswagen Chairman Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn used the made-up term “Datenkrake” when speaking at CeBIT last week to caution the converging computer and automotive industries against turning the car into a data monster (Datenkrake) capable of abusing consumer privacy rights. I wrote a blog on the subject earlier this week ( tinyurl.com/k59yz8v - Ich Bin ein Connectedcar - VW's #Winterkorn warns against the connected car as a #Datenkrake) suggesting that it was unwise for Winterkorn to use this characterization.

With the $1.2B Toyota settlement with the U.S. Justice Department now concluded and GM’s 1.6M-car recall to fix a faulty ignition switch underway, it is important to emphasize that an obsession with privacy cuts two ways – neither of which serves the interest of the consumer.  Car companies overly focused on privacy are failing to serve their own or their customers’ interests.  Car companies suggesting otherwise are deceiving themselves or their customers or both.

After the settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, Akio Toyoda, described the experience as a turning point for the company – a chance to re-focus on the customer. The Automotive News quoted Toyoda as saying: “Recalls are not about concealing problems we find. It’s about improving the product and coming up with countermeasures,” Toyoda said. “It’s a good thing from the long-term perspective of the automotive industry’s sustainable development.”

I am going to take Toyoda’s comments – and the new openness expressed by GM’s CEO Mary Barra in the wake of that company’s recent recall – a step further to suggest that what is called for is greater transparency. Car makers overly concerned with customer privacy may find themselves cut off from access to vehicle data that is vital to enhancing existing and future cars and saving lives. Conversely, consumers who opt for more closed, unconnected and privacy-enhanced vehicles may cut themselves off from access to vital information about their own cars – while granting the car maker plausible deniability. Of course, plausible deniability ("We had no idea there was a problem.") is a thin figleaf for a car maker when fatalities are involved.

Privacy concerns must be addressed by each car maker to the satisfaction of customers. Transparency ought to be every company’s guide.

A final note: What is not needed is some sort of industry coalition or consortium. There is nothing that looks less friendly to consumers than car companies all agreeing on a singular approach. This effort not only wastes time, but virtually guarantees the least innovative solution possible. Positive change can only come from competitive efforts to resolve this issue.

The best thing Winterkorn could now do would be to write a letter to the European Commission asking that organization to mind its own business when it comes to privacy policies governing the automotive industry. After fouling up the more than decade long effort to legislate eCall, there is no telling what kind of a mess the European Commission will make of privacy.


March 19, 2014 21:37 rlanctot

In what may have been the first CeBIT keynote by an automotive executive but hopefully not the last, Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board of Management Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn spoke last week of the merger of the automobile and the computer industry and raised the specter of the connected car becoming a “Datenkrake.” A literal translation is “data octopus” though VW communications rendered it as “data monster.”

The comment speaks to Volkswagen’s and the industry’s ongoing ambivalence toward vehicle connectivity and the inability to articulate the positive aspects of connectivity without highlighting the potential downside. Winterkorn pointed to the need to protect customers from abuse of their data:

“The car must not become a data monster,” he said. “We already protect our customers against a wide variety of risks such as aquaplaning, micro-sleep and long, time-consuming congestion. With the same attention to our responsibilities, we intend to protect our customers against the abuse of their data.

“I clearly say yes to Big Data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother. At this point, the entire industry is called upon. We need a voluntary commitment by the automobile industry. The Volkswagen Group is ready to play its part.”

The first-time automotive keynote was part of a CeBIT presented under the made-up concept of “datability” with its obvious reference to Big Data. Winterkorn spoke positively of the broad societal benefits to be derived from vehicle connectivity but his Datenkrake comment hit a sour chord for international visitors though it may have resonated positively with the local German audience.

The comment highlighted two critical issues facing the auto industry generally and the German auto industry in particular. The first issue is the need for the automotive industry to embrace vehicle connectivity of all types. In this context, referring to vehicle connectivity as "Big Brother," "Datenkrake" or "paternalistic" represents precisely the wrong message – even in the context of conveying things to be avoided.

The automotive industry globally is clearly on a path to universal vehicle connectivity in a variety of flavors – via embedded modems, connected smartphones, V2X technology, and satellites - so it is best to treat it as a given and a positive rather than something to be feared or dreaded. For the German auto industry in particular, though, any negative impressions of vehicle connectivity must be overcome and dark references avoided.

Winterkorn managed to avoid Ford’s Jim Farley’s CES gaff of asserting that Ford was already tracking its customers – a claim which was actually incorrect.  But to focus on the downside or even mention potential negative outcomes from vehicle connectivity is to miss the point of connectivity entirely.

Embedded connectivity is being aggressively pursued by governing bodies such as the European Union and even the United Nations.  (The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has been pursuing a global eCall initiative for the past year.)  Governments want cars connected for the benefit of the driver – to ensure the notification of emergency responders in the event of an accident as well as, ultimately, to entirely avoid collisions.

EV maker Tesla has shown, in the U.S., that a car’s safety can be enhanced by an over-the-air software update.  With the growing amount of software in cars and the rising tide of recent vehicle recalls, there is no doubt that over-the-air software updates are rapidly becoming a required capability on new cars.

With Toyota’s just-announced $1.2B settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over unintended acceleration and GM’s 1.6M vehicle recall now under scrutiny, the importance of vehicle connectivity for anticipating and/or remotely diagnosing vehicle failures has been elevated as a consumer value proposition. In such circumstances connectivity and data communication is the customer’s friend … not a monster. Is it paternalistic to notify a driver – via conditioned-based maintenance applications - that his or her brakes are in danger of failing?

It is time to put the Datenkrake back in the closet and embrace the warm cuddly customer relationship altering power of vehicle connectivity. Are there security concerns? Yes. And they must be addressed. Policies must be defined and published for what data is extracted; how it is secured, managed and shared; for how long; and with the customer’s consent, access and control.

Privacy, too, must be factored in and liability better defined – especially in a world increasingly populated with semi-autonomous cars. But the need for privacy must be balanced by the right of the State to access data that may reveal the circumstances contributing to vehicle collisions with people, property and other vehicles.

The right to privacy ends where harm has been or might be done to another. In this way the privacy governing the use of cars is different from the privacy conferred on the user of a mobile phone or desktop computer. Consumers may not want their poor driving behavior used against them by car insurers, much as consumers with pre-existing medical conditions don't want an unfortunate medial history used against them by health or life insurers.  But those concerns fall away when determining liability.

The actual challenge for Volkswagen and all car makers is to create connected car value propositions that are sufficiently, no, overwhelmingly attractive so that opting out is never considered. In fact, Volkswagen would do well to take a page from BMW’s strategy in North America and build a free layer of connected services into every car to ensure safe driving, up to date on-board software, and remote diagnostics for condition-based maintenance - at least!  (In fact, Qoros Auto, the newest car maker in the garage, is offering lifetime connectivity on its new hatchback, launched at the Geneva Auto Show.)


February 4, 2014 07:11 rlanctot

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States has announced its plans to continue studying and investigating the use of dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) technology for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication for the purpose of preventing light vehicle crashes:

“NHTSA is currently finalizing its analysis of the data gathered as part of its year-long pilot program (managed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute) and will publish a research report on V2V communication technology for public comment in the coming weeks. The report will include analysis of the Department's research findings in several key areas including technical feasibility, privacy and security, and preliminary estimates on costs and safety benefits. NHTSA will then begin working on a regulatory proposal that would require V2V devices in new vehicles in a future year, consistent with applicable legal requirements, Executive Orders, and guidance. DOT believes that the signal this announcement sends to the market will significantly enhance development of this technology and pave the way for market penetration of V2V safety applications.”

The significance of the announcement is that it applies only to light vehicles, not trucks; it requires no significant steps by any of the interested parties and it provides no time frame for those next steps although some journalists reported that the first steps toward rule making are expected to occur before the end of the Obama administration. What specifically did not happen was a mandate for DSRC technology to be required for FMCSA class 6,7 and 8 commercial vehicles as well as for emergency vehicles.

The announcement also did not make the Michigan test bed data available to the industry or other independent analysis. This means all interested parties will have to wait for NHTSA’s report.

The announcement did mark the movement toward better explaining to the general public what V2X is all about. The focus on collision avoidance was important, but it is not clear whether this selling message will overcome consumer concerns regarding security, privacy and surrendering control of the car – even for the purposes of avoiding a crash.

By the time DSRC makes it to market it is highly likely that competing technologies will already have been adopted via market mechanisms rendering DSRC irrelevant. The one thing NHTSA could do to change this depressing prospect is to require the implementation of the technology in those vehicle segments (commercial) where it has the relevant authority. An announcement of its plan to do so would have been a very big deal. Yesterday’s announcement fell far short of this.


January 31, 2014 14:37 rlanctot

Two senior GM executives appear to be working and speaking at crosspurposes.  This isn’t necessarily unusual, but given the fact that the focus of their disagreement is the importance of infotainment systems, it is worthy of note.

Speaking at the J.D. Power & Associates Roundtable at the National Automobile Dealers Association gathering in New Orleans last week, Senior Vice President of General Motors Global Quality and Customer Experience Alicia Boler-Davis highlighted the work of multiple design teams and engineers to understand and define the next generation of infotainment systems.

In her words:

“One area where we’re intently focused right now is in-vehicle technology or infotainment. This area of Product Excellence continues to rank very high with customers when it comes to the overall performance of their vehicles. In fact, according to J.D. Power, customers across the industry report more audio, entertainment, and navigation problems than any other category.

“Infotainment research at GM actually started many years ago. Back in 2007 – the same year Apple introduced the iPhone – we embarked on a five -year study to understand how people use their car radios and navigation systems, as well as their phones, iPods, and other portable devices in their cars.

“We watched others venture into this area early on, so we wanted to make every effort to do the best we could with our new systems.

“In fact, we went so far as to send our infotainment system designers into the field to ride with customers to work, on errands… even on vacations!

“We learned a lot. Then we applied what we learned to new designs and interfaces. We tested our designs at customer clinics, then redesigned them and tested again.

“Of course, I’m simplifying the process here. The point is that we used exhaustive methods to incorporate the voice of the customer into our new infotainment systems from the start. We streamlined the hardware and software, we made the technology more intuitive and easier to use, and we built in brand differentiation along the way.”


(Credit the GM Authority newsletter for publishing the full transcript of her remarks: http://gmauthority.com/blog/2014/01/you-owe-it-to-yourself-to-read-these-remarks-by-gms-chief-of-global-quality-and-customer-experience-alicia-boler-davis/#ixzz2rz9wbLVm)

 

Meanwhile, in a recent interview in CarAdvice, GM incumbent executive vice president of product development Mark Reuss complained about the priority the company had placed on infotainment systems in the past 4-5 years, and the harm that focus had done and was doing to the brand and to vehicle performance.  Reuss asserted in the interview that issues such as ride quality, safety and other priorities had been de-emphasized.  In his words:

“We went through an era here where there were certain people who thought that if we just did the coolest telematics and driver infotainment thing that we would win [in the market].

“Obviously nobody is going to care about how a car drives, how the car sounds, how the car crashes … it’s all going to be about infotainment.

“All those things are important, but are they the defining things on how good a car is? Not always. That won’t always separate you, but the core fundamentals of the car will.”

Boler-Davis’ remarks highlight the fact that GM, among many OEMs, is turning to consumer-oriented vehicle design.  This kind of approach represents precisely the kind of work GM or any car maker should be conducting.

No doubt this work must be conducted in the context of other vehicle design criteria.  But there may be an internal perception that infotainment is suddenly the sexy new area of focus to the detriment of other mission critical systems.

It is easy for other departments to feel de-emphasized or excluded when senior management is talking about Google, Android and LTE.  In fact, GM’s decision to join the Open Automotive Alliance has no doubt set off alarm bells throughout the organization – especially since Google has no comprehension whatsoever of automotive design criteria beyond capturing driver search results, serving up advertising and restricting Android modifications.

One cannot help but be sympathetic to Mark Reuss’ point of view.  But I cast my ballot in support of ongoing customer-focused research.  GM needs to solve the UI challenge of connected cars.  The sooner that problem is tackled, the sooner the “genius bars” in dealerships can be taken down and the Connected Customer Specialists can be recalled.

Reuss, like every other senior GM executive across every functional area in the organization, needs to recognize the importance of getting connectivity right and how it is already impacting the bottom line.  Being connected means enhanced safety – and Reuss’ task will be to ensure that connections are safely executed and ultimately deliver a safer and more delightful driving experience. 

Connectivity will mean higher customer satisfaction, higher customer retention, higher market share, and higher aftersales revenue.  What more does anyone need to know?


January 24, 2014 10:43 rlanctot

The CEOutlook newsletter recently reported on a promotional campaign via which Best Buy is offering customers coupons for free pairing of their smartphone with the car audio system through Geek Squad Auto Techs.  “If the customer doesn’t have a Bluetooth radio he’s given a 25% off coupon on select Bluetooth car audio products including radio or interface kits,” according to the report (http://tinyurl.com/pb626qw).

The offer is a significant step – if true – and reflects the kind of alignment of the mobile phone and car stereo departments I proposed in a blog nearly three years ago (http://tinyurl.com/ph75p9k). But it does not go far enough.

As a destination retailer, Best Buy is uniquely positioned to tackle automotive aftermarket opportunities. Anyone who has visited a Best Buy recently knows that the car stereo department is isolated in the rear of the store as if it were a high demand category that customers were willing to seek out.

The reality is that car stereos need to be somewhere closer to the front of the store – or the category should be completely removed. It is hopelessly lost in the back of the store.

I argue that the category belongs closer to the front and in proximity to the mobile phones because today mobile phones and car stereos work together.

Even more important and appropriate is the fact that mobile phone and car stereo connectivity needs to be explained and assistance with pairing is a valuable service to offer consumers. Anti-texting and driving laws are rapidly spreading across the U.S. along with laws requiring hands-free technologies for making mobile phone calls while driving.

There seems to be an assumption that consumers universally understand how connecting phones with Bluetooth works and are all complying – but the reality is that this is not happening.

At the same time, both insurance companies and wireless carriers have powerful vested interests in convincing consumers to connect their mobile devices in their cars to ensure that they are used safely. Texting and driving, in particular, is a scourge the carriers would prefer to see terminated before regulators force the implementation of texting and driving blockers.

I propose that Best Buy bring together the wireless carriers, the insurance industry and the aftermarket car stereo companies with the following proposition:

Consumers who participate in usage-based insurance programs with selected insurance companies (using OBDII devices installed by Best Buy) will qualify for insurance discounts (provided the usage-based insurance product detects texting-free driving) that can be monetized via discount coupons for Best Buy purchases or for commercial-free listening on Pandora.

With one campaign Best Buy:

Stimulates interest in the mobile electronics department

Solves the problem of customer Bluetooth pairing

Creates an opportunity for a customer return visit and future purchase at Best Buy

Provides and incentive for and thereby mitigates or ends texting and driving

Simultaneously makes new friends in the US Department of Transportation, the insurance industry, and the wireless industry

And introduces Pandora to even MORE consumers.

How about it Best Buy?


January 8, 2014 15:18 rlanctot

Car makers are diving head first into the app development arms race. This is leading to expensive decisions and decisions intended to avoid expensive outcomes. The most visible of these efforts is the Open Android Alliance or what I would call the “open” Android “alliance”.

The stated goal of the effort from Google in “cooperation” with Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA is to facilitate the propagation of Android apps in cars either via embedded systems or connected phones.  Less obvious are the requirements that Android not be modified and that any resulting intellectual property becomes the property of Google.

It is important for all involved – and there are likely to be many more soon as Tier 1 suppliers are gazing longingly over the fence yearning to participate – to understand that Google does not come bearing gifts.  Google comes bearing shackles in the guise of gifts. 

The only thing that might redeem this program is if Google can find a way to accommodate those car makers that choose to use Android for their own purposes – among them Renault, Volvo, Mercedes, Nissan and a growing roster of Android “forkers.”  Another mark of genuine interest in furthering the industry’s car connectivity aims would be a reticence on the part of Google to penalize those organizations that refuse to get on the bus.  (And, no, that is not a reference to Android’s inability to read automotive bus communications.)

Skepticism regarding Google’s motivations is an appropriate reaction.  The company has yet to prove its commitment to helping solve the unique safety and mission-critical performance and cost requirements associated with automotive solutions – with the possible exception of Google’s semi-autonomous car.

In fact, if Google were sharing technology from its SDC efforts its sincerity would be less suspect.  One can only hope OAA is not the latest Trojan horse from Silicon Valley.