AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

November 16, 2013 07:05 rlanctot

The Obama administration (and its Affordable Care Act) is not the only organization with customer engagement challenges.

BMW, too, is struggling. BMW has sent me a new email offer, but it appears to be some kind of mass mailing. The offer is for the new $187 BMW iPhone 5 Snap In Adapter (“Being Connected is a Snap”) and the email came to my personal Gmail account, but there was no personal salutation, so maybe it’s spam.

I get these messages from BMW pretty routinely, at least 100/year, and many, though not all of them, are pretty impersonal. What amazes me about this one is that BMW clearly wants to sell me something, but can’t seem to be troubled to connect a few crucial dots – particularly the knowledge of which vehicle I own and, of course, addressing me personally.

I have given BMW thousands of reasons, in fact tens of thousands of reasons, to know who I am and what car I own. The tipoff that BMW does not know who I am is the description of the new snap in adapter as being suitable for “vehicles equipped with Option 6NF Smartphone Integration or option 6NR BMW Apps.”

As you may have guessed by now my response to this description is to ask myself whether I have the required equipment or options.  BMW ought to know this.  In fact, BMW shouldn’t be offering me something that might not be applicable to my car.

I had a similar experience with the recent offer of a map update.  The links in the email took me to a Website that interrogated me as to which model year and model car I had and my VIN #.  Why?  Doesn’t BMW know which car I own?

There are three click-through buttons in the original email for the iPhone 5 cradle offer, though one disappears once the images are downloaded.  The remaining options are “Shop BMW Accessories” and “Shop BMW Lifestyle.”  Again, by now you are putting together the fact that this offer is more of a put off than a come on.

What’s wrong with BMW?  Let’s break it down.

#1        BMW should know who I am.  Everything the company does to engage with me should reflect this knowledge.  This is especially true when it comes to asking me to purchase optional BMW items.  The $187 iPhone 5 cradle is only the latest example and follows, by a couple weeks, the offer of a $255 map update, which was similarly impersonal.

#2        To deliver the personalized experience I am describing requires building internal databases tying car configurations to customers.  This seems to be a pretty obvious step, but it is clearly not something that BMW has prioritized.  Companies such as Teradata work with car companies such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Daimler and others to build these databases.  In fact these databases are essential, especially when it comes to recalls or software updates – the car company must be able to identify those customers in possession of cars that need attention.

#3        It is pretty obvious that somewhere within BMW there is an organization that knows who I am and what car I own.  The organization that knows who I am may be the marketing department.  The organization that knows what car I own may be aftersales.  But it seems as if these departments are not putting their information together.  The result of this failure is uncoordinated communications that fail to connect with or engage me, the consumer.  Communications with car owners must be efficient, precise, targeted, personal and as infrequent as possible.  A poorly targeted message might be perceived as or might actually be spam or a phishing attack.

#4        Marketing communications must be orchestrated and minimized and, wherever possible, linked to a common secure and reassuring client touch point – a portal.  BMW is planning to launch a customer portal within the next 12-15 monthss, but until it does communications such as the one for the iPhone 5 cradle appear awkward and likely to miss the mark.

#5        Finally, the only reasons for ordering the iPhone 5 cradle are to enable access to the iTunes store and iTunes-acquired content (audio or video) via the center stack.  The offer allows Apple to open an iTunes kiosk in the BMW driver’s console.  That’s a great deal for Apple, but it doesn’t do BMW much good and, aside from working well with BMW Apps, it has the potential to steer the customer away from using BMW’s on-board assets.  Maybe it is for this reason that BMW provides little description in the offer as to why this device is attractive or should be purchased.

#6        To further complicate matters, the offer email provides a link to my dealer’s Website.  So it appears that there are three places to buy the cradle including two BMW Websites and my dealer’s Website – though the dealer link is to the dealer’s generic site.

Like the Obama administration, BMW should accelerate its customer portal development activities.  Customer and vehicle identification must be coordinated and managed company-wide and globally.  With this coordination will come more coordinated marketing messages all of which should link back to the customer’s portal.

The customer portal will be equipped with vehicle service history, warranty information, available accessories as well as payment history and payment options.  (There are many more customer engagement elements that can be added including driving performance, geo-fencing, route guidance, trip planning, vehicle diagnostics and other commercial offers.)  More importantly, the customer portal will be secured with a password and other security elements.

With customer identity increasingly a sensitive issue and spam and phishing activities via email so widespread, BMW is leaving the door open with its current impersonal marketing activities.  If BMW wants its customers to part with hundreds of dollars for accessories or map updates, the least the company can do is send a personalized message and one that reflects the fact that the company actually knows what car the customer owns and whether or not the offered accessory is suitable for that car.

BMW is not alone in this failure, and the industry is slowly waking up to the need to orchestrate customer communications and manage vehicle and customer identification.  The implications for aftersales marketing and vehicle security are manifest.  But the most important reason to get this right is to create a delightful ownership experience.

 

P.S.

 

The iPhone 5 cradle is a back-to-the-future moment for BMW - bringing back memories of handset cradles from Peiker and Bury.  Surely a wireless (or wired) connection is sufficient.  The iPhone 4 cradle was a headache to connect and stow in the console both when getting into and when leaving the car.  (I won't get into the overheating problem associated with the iPhone 4 cradle - nightmare.)  Can't I just leave my phone in my pocket?  Is BMW going to create a cradle for my Blackberry Z10?  My Galaxy 4?  Slavish devotion to Apple is not a strategy.


November 9, 2013 16:00 rlanctot

It wasn’t enough that my 2013 BMW couldn’t handle Daylight Savings Time, failing once again in its twice a year duty to set back its clock, it also was incapable of handling a map update. I bit the bullet last week, accepted my fate and paid the $255 vigorish for the new map and the update failed. My experience highlights two important problems with connected cars that the industry must overcome.

Issue #1: Cars must have the latest map data. Cars equipped with navigation systems all over the world normally have maps that are no newer than six months old. Old maps create driver distractions and the potential for accidents. How car makers have allowed this state of affairs to continue is incomprehensible. It is one of the most serious problems facing the industry.

Issue #2: Cars should be more like phones on wheels.  Even cars equipped with embedded modems – just like mobile phones – are far from behaving like mobile phones.  The embedded modem is isolated from most vehicle systems for fear of hacking and also to limit the use of the device.  In other words, instead of using the embedded device as a cost avoidance tool for anticipating and fixing problems with on-board hardware and software, car makers are trying to avoid the cost of using the embedded device.

Status of Issue #1:  My personal experience with map updates has been expensive, annoying, disappointing and frightening.  I have invested approximately $1,500 over the past 10 years in map updates for vehicles I have owned.  My latest experience was perhaps the most disappointing.

During an oil change visit to the dealer I asked if the dealer could update my on-board map – since I had received an email alert that one was available.  The dealer said that they’d first have to get a code and then once they had the code the update process would be at least 1.5 hours – probably longer. 

I decided to order the map update and try to do the installation myself – which is recommended.  I paid the $255 (including tax) for the thumb drive containing 2014 Version 1A of TomTom’s map of North America for my 2013 BMW.  I plugged the thumb drive in and went for a drive while it downloaded.

Once the update was done downloading to the car, the car displayed a message (see attachments):

“USB device data is not the latest version.  Start update anyway?”

I drove to the dealer to get a consult on the situation.  The dealer could not explain why this message was displaying.  Two hours later, I was told that the technician had used the dealer’s own 2014 map to update my navigation system.

The number of failure points is impressive:

1.      Update notification – generic and impersonal – The customer has to enter his or her personal information and VIN # to obtain the map update.  This process should have been handled in a more direct personal way perhaps via a portal and/or with an integrated smartphone element.  (Most customers will NOT have their VIN handy and the car maker ought to be managing this customer and vehicle identification information.)

2.      Map update is way too expensive – At $255, the map update is prohibitively expensive – which explains why only about 5% of car owners update their maps.

3.      There is no concierge experience for the customer that is crazy enough to update his or her maps.  At $255, there should be coffee and donuts, soft cushions, calming music, theater tickets … SOMETHING!

4.      Did the update really happen?  The customer will need to drive to some area with new construction to see if his or her map data was actually updated.  Otherwise, how would someone know?  The supporting documents claim massive amounts of added data, categories, POIs, etc. – but this is not obvious to the user.  (How about a document accessible online that portrays significant regional map updates or enhancements?)

5.      The thumb drive with the BMW map update had storage capacity of 32G of which 21G was used, suggesting an extraordinary amount of content (unless it was poorly compressed) – yet there is nowhere to discover precisely what is included.

What is the industry doing to address the problem of map updates?  Companies such as Ford, Mazda and GM have begun putting map data on thumb drives to hit lower price points and to make map updating easier.  But maps are still old and updates are still expensive.

Ford enables a turn-by-turn navigation experience via the connected smartphone without full map navigation.  TeleNav and deCarta are working on hybrid (on-board/off-board) navigation experiences.  Tesla uses the on-board modem in the Model S to stream Google’s map, which is fine as long as there is a connection.

Daimler and Kia intend to offer European customers a few free map updates as a customer relationship tool with new cars, but the strategy has not been widely adopted by competing car makers.  Navigation software supplier NNG is focusing on the problem with its NavFusion campaign.

NNG’s strategy is to include navigation in all cars but allow the customer to “unlock” the on-board application via a connected smartphone.  Once unlocked in this way, the smartphone app is updated routinely via the app store process, and then the smartphone passively updates the vehicle system when connected.  The brilliance of NNG’s approach is that it gets the customer to connect their phone to the car - a step that too often fails to hapen - and enables a map updating experience via the connected phone - requiring no additional license fee.

NNG is exploring a variety of models for bringing its map updating concept to the market including enabling incremental (country by country or state by state) updates that will be more manageable in size.  The possibility also exists for publicly accessible map Wi-Fi “top-up stations” at dealerships.

The bottom line for the industry is that map updates remain a significant unsolved problem.  And unsolved problems represent opportunity.  Consumers responding in countless surveys have made clear their interest in map updates.  The existing map update rate of 5% suggests a significant upside opportunity.

In fact, even a 10% or 20% improvement in map updating would translate into significant revenue for car makers and their suppliers.  Even more important is the fact that map updates can be converted by dealerships into profitable aftermarket revenue, new car sales and other customer engagement opportunities.

It is also worth noting that companies such as HERE and TomTom claim to be updating their map data on a daily basis.  Google and OpenStreetMaps are also updating on an increasingly frequent basis.  The industry needs to focus on narrowing the gap between map updating and map update delivery.  The immensity of this gap suggests the possibility for disruptive change and new thinking.

Status of Issue #2:  Cars acting more like smartphones on wheels. 

Cars are still pretty stupid.  But cars with activated embedded modems have no excuse for being stupid.  The on-board modem ought to be the core of the car’s brain and, combined with an on-board map, should be capable of rendering a contextually aware experience for the driver.

The fact that my BMW, in fact every BMW, still does not understand Daylight Savings Time is but one fundamental and obvious indication that cars are still pretty stupid, even the ones with modems.  As the industry shifts inexorably toward embedded modems, and LTE modules in particular, the day of the stupid car should be put behind us.  If the simplest electronic products can cope with Daylight Savings Time, a sophisticated $50,000 mobile electronics device should be able to keep up.  Our industry depends on it.


October 31, 2013 12:15 rlanctot

Industry experts are quick to declaim their belief that the days of free over-the-air radio are numbered. This increasingly conventional wisdom declares that the combination of streaming audio services (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) and Internet radio services (TuneIn, Aupeo!, etc.) will steadily crowd out the AM/FM competition and render it irrelevant.  Some have gone so far as to predict the demise of the car radio.

These forecasters ignore the vital role that radio plays in delivering urgent location-relevant information ranging from traffic and weather to news and sports and, yes, even emergency broadcasts and amber alerts. They also ignore the fact that this local content is delivered with locally relevant advertising.

There is some cause for concern.  Radio advertising revenue has fallen about 10% between 2008 and 2012 from $18.3B to $16.48B, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. But radio remains dominant in reach and frequency of use, according to respected sources such as Nielsen Audio and Edison Research.

The decline in ad spend is a warning sign, though, and it is important to interpret that sign accurately. Unlike television and the Internet, radio remains largely unsearchable and is almost impervious to discovery (without an app). And radio advertising is a one-way proposition.

But technology is emerging to overcome these barriers in the form of audio content recognition (ACR). First introduced by Shazam (for identifying songs playing over the air or anywhere else) and SoundHound, ACR is just beginning to be used to enable an interactive advertising experience – something entirely taken for granted on the Internet and rapidly emerging in television.

In fact the television opportunity has become so compelling that Shazam and SoundHound have completely shifted their focus (and their hundreds of millions of users) to TV, leaving the challenge of enabling interactive advertising on radio and in cars to the likes of Clip Interactive and NextRadio.

Emmis Communications’ NextRadio initiative is based on the introduction of FM chips in mobile phones. Working with Sprint, which has added FM chips to some of its handsets, the service provides local over-the-air reception and adds interactive features, if stations opt to support them, such as buying and rating songs, social media coupons and geo-location services, using the phone’s data channel. Emmis has attracted the participation of 19 radio groups supporting full TagStation content to deliver album art and interactivity, and Ford Motor Company has shown interest in the technology as a solution that can be enabled via a connected smartphone in a car.

Clip Interactive, meanwhile, is using ACR to enable comprehensive interactivity with radio station broadcasts including music and spoken word content as well as advertising. Currently testing in Portland and San Diego with local partners, Clip Interactive is scanning the local broadcast content in order to create an interactive opportunity for broadcasters and their listeners.

Clip executives believe that the Internet and IP-delivered services such as Pandora have raised customer expectations for a personalized and interactive experience. At the same time advertisers want targeting, tracking and direct connectivity to the listener on a one to one basis.

There is no better venue for this kind of personalized and targeted engagement than a car, where the listener is belted in and, very often, on the way to making a purchase or conducting some other kind of transaction. Clip execs believe that broadcast radio needs to step up to interactivity to realize the potential of vehicle-based advertising.

In Portland and San Diego Clip has set up listening posts cataloguing all of the content from the top 30 stations in the market. ACR technology is used as a form of fingerprinting to make all of the broadcast content accessible for interactivity.  Local broadcasters participating in Clip's program create the interactive offers and content to go with the over-the-air offering.

With ACR-interpreted content scanned and stored by Clip, all that is required is for listeners is to run the Clip app in the background on their mobile phone as they drive and, with the click of a button or with a verbal cue they can tag music, advertisements or other over-the-air content with which they can engage when they reach their destination.

“Music is a commodity that others like Pandora will slice, dice and recommend,” says Bill Freund, executive vice president of Clip. “but localized broadcasts will never be commoditized or programmatic. Local broadcasters need to leverage this advantage in the vehicle.”

Clip’s offering is still in a trial phase, but the early results are promising (see example below).  Both Clip and NextRadio enable broadcasters to reach out and engage with their listeners in real time.  In the future, ACR might enable enhanced searching of broadcast content – including spoken word sources. But for now, both services leverage existing technology to transform a medium in need of transformation.

Cast Study halloween.pptx (4.27 mb)


October 20, 2013 22:20 rlanctot

At a time when Apple, Google and Microsoft are all intensifying their flirtation with auto makers in an attempt to capture the fourth (fifth?) screen, an Amazon acquisition of Blackberry suddenly makes a lot of sense.  Amazon has the assets, the content, the delivery platform and the global reach to fulfill much of the cloud connectivity vision increasingly sought by car makers.  All that’s missing are the car company and Tier 1 connections to stitch it all together – which is where QNX comes in.

The digital world is coalescing around a multi-screen vision focused on content delivery, application penetration and e-commerce reaching consumers at every touch point of their connected lives.  Amazon has mastered selling things to people wherever they may be on their computer, watching television or on their mobile device – or even via their Kindle e-reader.  The last frontier for Amazon is the car.

While Apple, Google and Microsoft have overtly pushed their search engines, device connections, cloud resources and operating systems, Amazon has quietly muscled its way to market leadership in online commerce and back-end service support.  Amazon has also shoved its way to the top of the e-reader heap, putting itself into the mobile device business for the first time with the Kindle.

Along the way Amazon has embraced and modified Android for its own purposes and acquired two automotive-facing assets – Audible (an application and Website for delivering electronic books) and Ivona (a natural sounding text-to-speech solution) both already positioned for automotive deployment.  (Audible is actually available as part of BMW’s BMW Apps offering.  And Amazon's Cloud Player has been deployed by Ford.)  Amazon’s servers are already supporting mobile apps being used in cars and its content delivery and e-commerce system is perfect for the range of LTE-equipped cars and emerging in-car commerce solutions soon to be rolling out of auto factories around the world.

An acquisition of Blackberry will give Amazon instant credibility in the automotive industry with the QNX real-time operating system, already used in the majority of high-end and mid-range automotive infotainment systems.  Amazon will also gain access to Blackberry’s highly reliable and secure messaging platform suitable for both automotive and mobile device applications.  And car makers determined to enable an app store experience in the car will find one ready-made from Amazon.

QNX OEM partners: BMW, PSA, Audi, Hyundai, Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Daewoo, Land Rover, and Porsche

QNX Tier 1 partners: Johnson Controls, Panasonic, Mitsubishi Electric, Garmin, Harman, Denso, Visteon

Even more valuable to Amazon than the automotive play, though, is the mobile play.  A Blackberry acquisition allows Amazon to dive directly into the deep end of the mobile handset business and leverage its differentiating content delivery assets for a one-of-kind mobile experience that extends the company’s existing mobile device footprint.

A combination messaging device and e-reader with cutting edge audio and video delivery capabilities and seamless e-commerce elements is a powerful counterpoint to the Apple-Google duopoly and effectively counters Microsoft’s nascent Windows Phone 8 efforts.  For Blackberry, Amazon is everything that Blackberry isn’t.  Summed up in one hyphenated word Amazon is: consumer-friendly.

Blackberry lost its way following the onset of the iPhone and the rise of Android.  The company was unable to define an attractive third path and is struggling to rebuild its unique selling proposition.  Amazon has precisely the assets and brand cachet that Blackberry needs to reposition itself in the market.

Less obvious is the fact that an Amazon acquisition restores confidence among consumers and corporate customers alike.  The acquisition will also reinforce the Android-centric message – even though Blackberry is using QNX – Blackberry phones  already support Android, which makes it perfectly compatible with Amazon.

Finally, Amazon can slide directly into all of Blackberry’s existing carrier and retail relationships as it nears the launch of its own wireless device, widely rumored to arrive in time for the holidays.

For Blackberry a tie-up with Amazon restores OEM confidence in the longevity of Blackberry as a company and its QNX division as a supplier of real-time operating system software.  Such an acquisition marries solid automotive credentials and a secure mobile messaging platform with cloud service resources and the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

Such a move also allows car companies to steer clear of Google and Apple with their competing agendas (Google: to sell search-based advertising; Apple: to sell mobile devices).  The only issue that remains to be resolved is whether car makers will welcome Amazon into the aftermarket.

Amazon already offers online access to a wide range of auto parts, supplies and accessories.  A direct engagement with the auto industry could transform this existing retail activity and might, eventually, lead to direct sales of used and new cars – or even car insurance, collision aftercare or vehicle service.  Amazon could facilitate the process of car companies or their dealers opening stores on Amazon.

More than Google, Apple and Microsoft, Amazon understands the power and value of e-commerce.  An acquisition of Blackberry opens wide the door to two large industries, wireless and automotive.  The time is right if Amazon is ready to disrupt both of these markets – and if the auto industry is ready to accept this large yet scrappy newcomer.


August 7, 2013 17:53 rlanctot

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

Respondents were asked to vote on 10 To-Do items previously recommended for incoming U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and detailed in a Strategy Analytics blog (tinyurl.com/meud4m7).  Perhaps it is not surprising that these respondents nearly universally agreed that commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles ought to be prioritized for deployment of modules enabling dedicated short range communication (DSRC) messaging.  But DSRC-based V2V technology was not the only thing on their minds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mandate DSRC for cabs in major cities.

“Provide new infrastructure plan with networking capability.

“Generate green and SDC lane on highway.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the complete results:

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

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

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

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

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 7, 2013 15:46 rlanctot

Congratulations came from far and wide last week for the new U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Given the brief 4.5-year tenure of his predecessor, Ray LaHood, it is important that Secretary Foxx get right down to business and we have a few recommendations.

In the interest of brevity, we have kept the list to 10 items and we apologize in advance for focusing exclusively on the automotive industry but it is worthwhile noting the industry’s impact on the U.S. economy* (which is equivalent to its impact globally):

  • 8 million jobs
  • $500B in compensation
  • $70B in tax revenues
  • 4.5% of all jobs supported by auto industry
  • 3-3.5% of gross domestic product

Ten To-Do’s for the New U.S. Secretary of Transportation

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

The current state-by-state patchwork of anti-texting and driving laws and hands-free phone laws have created confusion and inhibited compliance and enforcement of driver distraction mitigation measures. A single, simple nationwide guideline with pre-approved legislative language and a deadline for adoption will crystalize consumer understanding while simplifying the planning of car and app developers and the wireless industry.

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

Formally support California's introduction of a legislative mandate (AB 397) creating a voluntary national motor vehicle emergency contact (aka next-of-kin) database accessible to authorized law enforcement agencies nationwide:

Earlier this year the California legislature introduced legislation that will ensure law enforcement personnel can notify next-of-kin quickly in the event of a traffic incident in which victims are incapacitated. Often, it can take days for family members to learn their loved one was killed or seriously injured in a crash. The California Motor Vehicle Emergency Contact Locator Act of 2013 will solve this problem.

Many times, a family’s only indication that something bad happened is the fact that the loved one did not arrive at home when they were expected. AB 397 will establish a low-cost, efficient, and immediate way for law enforcement personnel to find and inform families about their loved ones.

AB 397 does not propose any changes in the manufacturing of vehicles, but utilizes a law enforcement database. For example, a crash occurs, and John Smith is critically injured and unable to communicate. Law enforcement cannot locate the victim's emergency contact information and/or family; but law enforcement can tap into the database established under this bill and obtain contact information within seconds necessary to notify designated emergency contact(s).

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Unlike other rule-making or standards-setting activities, the back-up camera mandate was the result of legislation - followed by millions of tax payers' dollars in research.  With the legislative branch having already weighed in, it is important to move forward on this item to restore confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to make progress even in the face of strong industry lobbying.

Car companies have already made the preparations for this requirement which is reflected in television advertisements from Honda, Nissan and Buick among many others. While there is an anti-competitive element to requiring all car makers to implement this solution, the wider impact of stimulating the adoption of safety systems as standard equipment will be immediate and significant.

Make no mistake, the U.S. is a leader in killing people on the highway – 100 people die every day on U.S. roadways. If it weren’t for Brazil jumping into third place on the global list of annual highway fatalities, the U.S. would be right there “behind” China and India.

The automotive industry’s assertion that the cost per life saved is onerous is not an argument that the industry can sustain. At least 200 lives are likely be saved annually once all cars are rear-camera-equipped – but the stimulus to the adoption of lane keeping, blind spot detection and collision avoidance systems resulting from the mandate will save many more. Furthermore, the integration of in-vehicle displays for the purpose of achieving safer driving will also be transformative and set the stage for vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity systems.

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

A recent survey by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers revealed that about a third of the U.S. driving public thinks self-driving cars are a good idea. Those results are a clear sign that Google (and DARPA) are on to something. The DOT should be more supportive of the efforts of Google, Audi, Continental and others to bring self-driving cars to U.S. highways. Promoting and supporting this technology is a stimulus package that will be widely welcomed by the automotive, wireless, and semiconductor industries.

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

In 1999, spectrum was allocated without an auction or fees by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. in the 5.9GHz band for dedicated short range communication (DSRC) applications. For 14 years, the industry has been testing and hypothesizing about those potential applications, but the country has precious little to show for the effort.

DSRC is intended to save lives by ultimately enabling safer driving by creating a driving environment where cars communicate with each other and with infrastructure. The inability of the DOT to drive adoption of the technology in the large-volume passenger vehicle market segment has meant 14 years wasted while preserving usage of the 5.9GHz band for the auto and fleet industries.

By now it is clear that the FCC has lost patience with the DOT and is threatening to open up that spectrum to unlicensed use – something the ITS community is strenuously fighting to prevent. Nothing would be more effective than to foster immediate adoption of DSRC for commercial fleet applications.

The good news is that companies such as Kapsch TrafficCom have already begun moving in this direction. Earlier this year Kapsch announced the first deployment of DSRC technology for a parking availability application for fleets - in cooperation with the Michigan DOT.

A mandated adoption of DSRC in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, and 8 will create an immediate market for DSRC applications and stimulate adoption of DSRC technology in passenger cars as well. The rationale and use cases are too numerous to describe here, but the efficacy of such a strategy is manifest.

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

Knowing the location and movements of emergency vehicles is of critical importance to both drivers of passenger cars and transportation authorities. In addition, responding emergency vehicles have a need to know the presence of other vehicles potentially responding to an event. The rationale and use case here is clear. The live-saving prospects will be immediate.

Service vehicles parked along highways are a routine hazard faced by drivers every day. No amount of cones, signs or lights can replace the power of a wireless beacon embedded in such vehicles warning off heedless drivers of passenger vehicles – night and day.

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

We’ve all heard the arguments that the latency of LTE signals is too great and the current network too unreliable to be appropriate for safety applications. Yet we also hear of tests of LTE that show promise for safety applications. It is time the DOT put this debate to rest or at least settled the matter once and for all by insisting that LTE be tested alongside DSRC in all cases – including the Safety Pilot currently underway in Michigan. It is clear that these two technologies will be used cooperatively, so it is best to get the testing out of the way.

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

While the European Union continues to pursue its ill-conceived eCall mandate, the U.S. is leading the charge to enhance the acquisition of information associated with vehicle crashes. While the EU mandated the means of data transmission – data over voice – the U.S. has, instead, focused on enhancing the capabilities of the 911 responder community to capture all forms of inputs from crash scenes.

Hence, the EU is struggling with forcing both car makers and public service access point (PSAP) responders to adopt the mandated technology. The EU has also gone so far as to discourage the use of mobile phones for reporting crash information. And, lastly, even European wireless carriers have balked at the eCall flag and related requirements.

A far different picture emerges in the U.S. where emergency response leadership is seeking ways to leverage smartphone connections at crash scenes to enhance response protocols. Given the potential value of a connected and operating smartphone at a crash scene there is an opportunity for the US DOT to recommend the adoption of specific safety-related protocols when connecting smartphones in cars in anticipation of the data acquisition opportunity in the event of a crash. More attention paid here will pay significant life-saving dividends.

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

The DOT can do more to foster the sharing and dissemination of public transit information for the purpose of stimulating app development and, as a result, increase awareness and expand usage. Apps have the power to make transit more user friendly and the DOT should support these development efforts – more DOT hack-a-thons perhaps?

In addition, there is a crisis brewing between Taxi & Limousine commissions and ride-sharing services. Some benchmarking and identification of best practices from other countries ought to be conducted to create basic guidelines for implementation of these services in a manner that guarantees driver and passenger safety and preserves existing commercial rights.

Finally, there is a need for more complete disclosure regarding the usage of tolling and traffic and enforcement camera images and information. Drivers benefit from the use of data derived from roadside infrastructure for the purposes of better managing traffic, but confusion exists regarding the use and availability of this information for other forensic purposes. The ownership and handling of this data must be more clearly defined for the driving public to preserve confidence in the transportation system.

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

Roadside Bluetooth scanners from TrafficCast, Traffax, Post Oak, Siemens and other suppliers should be required to include DSRC technology. The vast majority of these installations are the result of local or national DOT contracts, so insisting on this enhancement ought to fall squarely within the purview of the DOT. Such guidance will go a long way toward dissipating lingering concerns regarding the cost of roadside DSRC devices – and Wi-Fi-based technologies, such as DSRC, are increasingly being enabled by combination chipsets.

Good luck and God speed, Secretary Foxx.  Now get to work!

*Center for Automotive Research, “Contribution of the Automobile Industry to All 50 States and the United States.”

 


July 6, 2013 00:20 rlanctot

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. launched an iOS smartphone app two weeks ago to share information with the public regarding the location of more than 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings.  The safety implications of sharing this information are clear, but the accuracy of the underlying information is already in question in spite of a crowd-sourcing element built into the app.

And a recent disastrous collision of a train and truck outside Baltimore suggests that the FRA app fails to go far enough to mitigate collisions at highway-rail grade crossings.  Clearly knowing where crossings are located is not enough.

The app allows users to retrieve information such as the physical characteristics of railroad crossings in a particular area and the type of traffic control devices used at that crossing. The app also allows users to report information about grade crossings to the FRA to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is available. The app is free through Apple’s App Store and can be used on any iPhone or iPad.

While it is a positive gesture for the FRA to offer this kind of outreach, the process seems completely ill-conceived especially in the context of clashing with private commercial products and services. An existing app called Global Mobile Alert already exists to alert drivers when using their phone to the presence of railroad crossings, school zones and intersections, for the purposes of mitigating distracted driving.

Global Mobile Alert uses data from the Here division within Nokia as its source with programming of the application by deCarta. Here has its own procedures for receiving map and POI information corrections. What is unclear is precisely who will receive railroad crossing information corrections at the FRA and how and when they will be processed and distributed to users of the app. Of course Here's information is used as part of fleet navigation solutions as well, meaning FRA's app is setting up a redundant data set.

Amazingly enough, the truck driver whose trash truck was hit by a CSX locomotive outside Baltimore just a few weeks before the FRA app was launched was using his phone via a Bluetooth connection at the time of the crash. The Global Mobile Alert app might have removed this distraction, though the driver claimed he looked up and down the track in spite of being on the phone.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hailed the new FRA app as a means to improve neighborhood safety and assist consumers in making better travel choices. It seems pretty clear that the likelihood of this new app achieving success will require that any information generated be integrated into existing navigation and traffic information services.

Moreover, it fundamentally makes no sense for the government to be getting into the app development business – especially when the implications for sharing the railroad crossing information extend to the commercial fleet sector. The intersection of fleet and rail transport protocols and priorities highlights the urgency of capturing and distributing up to date crossing information including the timing of the passage of actual trains.

But judging from the first public comment on the app, it is already failing at its limited objective of locating the actual crossings:

“just downloaded this app. 

“Without looking too far, I see a number of errors. Some include missing crossings - including one on Route 138 at the KIN station, which is above grade and has been in place for 70+ years! Other errors include at grade crossings on the NEC in RI. All at grade crossings in RI on the NEC have either been eliminated (the road severed into 2 dead end roads) or have been grade separated. This happened over 10 years ago.”

Prior to the launch of the app, the DOT claims a 34% reduction in incidents at highway-rail crossing with a corresponding reduction of 30% in related fatalities. In 2012, 20% of all reportable rail accidents occurred at highway-rail crossings, according to the agency.

The really strange thing about the app, though, is that it is focused solely on the location and setup of the highway-rail crossings. As the commenter appropriately notes, highway-rail crossings are fixed and are not subject to frequent changes either in location or in their configuration.

The FRA ought to have definitive information regarding the location of these crossings and their condition. It may well be that there is a crowd-sourcing opportunity in reporting burned out lights, or traffic-stopping control arms that are failing to deploy or alarm bells that are failing to sound properly – but it is not clear what elements are reportable, who will validate these reports and who will see to it that updates are pushed to the users of the apps.

This is even more surprising given the critical nature of the information for the fleet industry. The train-truck collision outside Baltimore occurred just four weeks prior to the launch of the FRA app. The collision resulted in a derailment and a violent explosion – though no fatalities.

The driver of the truck claimed he slowed and looked as he approached the tracks but never saw or heard the CSX locomotive bearing down on him, according to an account in the Baltimore Sun. “John Alban Jr. told a Baltimore County police investigator that he was talking via Bluetooth on his cell phone on his way to a recycling facility on May 28, when he made the turn north from his business toward Lake Drive.”

The Baltimore Sun report continues: “He did not hear the train warning horn,’ said the police report dated June 24. ‘As he made the turn [he] looked to the right and did not see anything. As he was crossing the tracks, he heard the train horn and looked up at the same time as the train hit him.’

Clearly, knowledge of the location of the crossing was not an issue, but knowledge of the timing of the passage of trains was less well known and might have made a difference. Similarly, an app that was capable of discouraging use of the phone at such a crossing – such as Global Mobile Alert – might have prevented the collision, derailment and explosion.

If the FRA really wants to make a difference it should find a private partner to create an app – perhaps based on the existing app – tapping into existing databases from organizations such as Here and enabling crowd sourcing or a wider variety of information. But, even more importantly, what is clearly missing is an app capable of sharing critical information regarding the scheduled openings and closings of those crossings for passing trains or construction – in the interest of avoiding collisions and saving lives.


June 11, 2013 15:21 rlanctot

(This commentary was written at the request of and published simultaneously by AutomotiveWorld - http://tinyurl.com/lfxm4jf)

Brazil is known for its activist government, particularly when it comes to the country's economy.  Brazil's government has an impressive track record reversing its economic misfortune and runaway inflation.  But Brazilian consumers now must take the bad with the good, meaning taxes are high, as are the prices of cars, even in the absence of competitive safety systems and quality construction.

As the world's fourth largest car market, seventh largest producer of cars and one of the fastest growing car markets, Brazil faces opportunities and challenges.  Brazil sees an opportunity in leveraging its burgeoning automotive influence to become an exporter of cars.  But before it can export it will have to bring the quality and safety of its cars up to par.

According to a report in just-auto, Luiz Moan, the new president of Anfavea, Brazil’s automotive lobbying group, is seeking to restore Brazil’s auto exports to 2005 levels or higher.  Exports of cars have plunged by nearly 50% since 2005 as Brazil’s economy has strengthened, along with its currency.  Just-auto reports that Anfavea’s goal is for 5M in domestic sales, 5M in domestic production, 1M exported and 1M imported – with the import target slightly exceeding 2005 import levels.

Brazil’s government clearly regards its swelling automotive market as a strategic asset and, true to form, has sought to both protect and stimulate it – reducing industrial taxes in the past year and imposing a harsh import duty late in 2011.  The tax initiative had some positive impact in maintaining growth and the import duty brought immediate commitments from importers (ie. BMW, Hyundai and multiple Chinese importers) to open new factories or expand existing facilities.

Brazil is still struggling to come to terms with high rates of vehicle theft, stifling traffic conditions and increasing highway fatalities.  Brazil has surpassed the U.S. in the number of annual highway fatalities as well as the rate per miles driven, cars owned and per 100,000 citizens.

Brazil is hoping to combat the plague of vehicle theft by instituting its Contran 245 mandate for fitment of a vehicle tracking and immobilization device in all cars, trucks and motorcyles by the end of calendar 2014.  Management of traffic has been left to municipalities which are in the very earliest stages of developing sophisticated traffic management schemes. 

Sao Paulo has made the most progress in implementing RF technology for tolling and instituting a license plate number-based scheme for limiting vehicle use.  More clearly needs to be done and Brazil’s government is not likely to sit idly by.

Perhaps the saddest footnote to the tale of Brazil’s automotive market emergence, though,  is the rising death toll on the nation’s highways – now well surpassing the 100 fatalities/day seen in the U.S.  A report in the Huffington Post (http://tinyurl.com/mnyln6w), points to a lack of safety standards (airbag and anti-lock brake requirements coming next year!), a lack of testing facilities, a lack of consumer awareness and poorly regarded local build quality.

If Brazil is to fulfill the opportunity of becoming one of the leading auto markets in the world – not only consuming cars but building and selling them – the quality and safety of the cars made in Brazil must improve.  And this change must come even before exchange rate and other challenges are overcome.  In the end, the first to benefit from those improvements will be Brazilians. 

It will also help make Brazilian vehicles more welcome in local export markets which are no less protected than Brazil’s own.  If Brazil can establish safety leadership for the region, Brazilian cars might become attractive imports for Venezuela and Mexico, rather than being seen as inexpensive “deathtraps,” as they are perceived today.


June 10, 2013 14:26 rlanctot

Google and its self-driving cars (SDCs) are scaring the wits out of the automotive industry. There’s nothing major car makers would like to see more than a swift departure of Google from the automotive domain. The next best outcome for auto makers, therefore, is to discourage or delay Google-led initiatives like SDC.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has come to the rescue with guidelines for states in the U.S. that may be considering allowing self-driving cars to operate. (Google has stated that it does not support the NHTSA guidelines.)  These guidelines boil down to:

·         Simple transition from automated to driver control

·         Be able to detect, record and inform driver if the system malfunctions

·         Technology does not disable federally required safety features

·         Records information in the event of a crash

More details are available:  http://tinyurl.com/n2j5rpr

There are currently two paths toward self-driving cars.  One path, the one with which more consumers will be familiar, is the path defined by Google’s autonomous car – and already familiar from multiple DARPA-led challenges where various organizations and university programs create autonomous vehicles competing to cross the desert or operate in city traffic.

The other self-drive car path is based on 802.11p DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication) technology – now being tested at the University of Michigan Safety Pilot study - http://safetypilot.umtri.umich.edu/.  DSRC is the technology behind vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology intended to enhance vehicle safety by creating a network of vehicle communication for the purpose of eliminating all driver-related collisions or approximately 80%-90% of accidents.

As a result, what is emerging is a private initiative currently “led” by Google – as the first company to put a self-driving car on the road – competing with a vision of autonomous driving ultimately enabled by a government mandated DSRC module.  NHTSA’s recommendation that states only allow SDCs for testing purposes only for the next four years buys time for the auto industry to “catch up” with Google’s massive headstart in the marketplace and the minds of consumers.  (Audi notably has its own autonomous car operating in the U.S.)

While the Google car is notorious for its use of a rooftop lidar device reportedly having a cost of $70,000, the expectation is that the size and cost of this hardware will both shrink rapidly.  Meanwhile, NHTSA is pushing toward the eventual mandate of a DSRC module in every car intended ultimately enable self-driving cars along with a range of other applications focused on safety and traffic management.

The auto industry’s response to Google’s private commercial initiative was evident in survey results released last week at the Telematics Update 2013 event.  The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) released survey results showing that 33% of consumers think the idea of self-driving cars is a good one, but the AAM chose to focus on the 42% of respondents who said it was a bad idea.  A further 24% were unsure what to think.

To this analyst, the idea that any consumers at all viewed self-driving cars as an attractive proposition is big news.  It’s not as if Google launched its car in response to overwhelming demand.  The move was an intuitive one driven by personal experience – more and more people find driving intrusive and unpleasant and will welcome the SDC concept.

The AAM findings go on to report that 75% of respondents said they were very concerned that companies would collect personal data and 70% said they were very/somewhat concerned this information would be shared with the government.  AAM also said 81% of respondents reported they were either very or somewhat concerned that hackers could gain control of self-driving cars.

The irony here is that a Google-type SDC is far less likely to be sharing data with the government or to be exposed to hackers than a car with a government-mandated DSRC module.  Who is a consumer more likely to trust these days:  Google, with whom hundreds of millions of consumers are already sharing their data; or the government (ie. NHTSA), which has recently been caught in a range of over-reaching personal information intrusions in recent weeks.

My money is on private, commercial initiatives, such as those driven by Google, Audi, Continental and other car makers and their suppliers.  The impact of the government mandate approach has been to narrow the field of potential participants in the DSRC space, freezing out innovation and investment.

Further working against the long-term success of DSRC has been the inability of the leaders in the space to find and adopt practical applications for the technology.  In 10 years there has been little or no commercial deployment of the technology.  It appears that even the Federal Communication Commission in the U.S. – the agency responsible for allocating the required spectrum – has lost patience with the NHTSA program – choosing not to “protect” the spectrum from unlicensed use.

The first green shoots of DSRC deployment are beginning to appear, with Kapsch announcing a self-parking implementation for commercial vehicles.  Let’s hope this is just the beginning.  Next steps ought to include deployment of DSRC on emergency vehicles (for intersection collision avoidance – 9,000 people killed annually in the U.S. at intersections) and fleets.  But 10 years of testing with no deployment raises serious questions regarding the management of the DSRC program.

NHTSA and AAM ought to be fostering not discouraging development and deployment of SDC technology.  Telling states to shift into a testing-only mode is hardly the kind of bold innovation-fostering push the industry needs.  With 33% of consumers telling AAM they think SDC is a good idea, it is clear there is a market for the technology.

Simple directives are best.  All NHTSA really ought to say at this point is that a driver must be in the driver seat at all times and the driver is still responsible for the operation of the vehicle.  One sentence, rather than 14 pages of regulatory hoo-hah.

 


June 2, 2013 15:04 rlanctot

A battle is erupting over the $400B vehicle repair and maintenance market in North America and the clarion call to arms was sounded at the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s (AAIA) Aftermarket eForum last month.  AAIA is sounding the alarm well ahead of the anticipated assault by OEMs, which AAIA perceives as leveraging telematics technology to apply a stranglehold to their aftersales business.

 

Though slightly premature, AAIA’s concern is real and the organization attributes its decision to raise the alarm to the emergence of embedded telematics and smartphone solutions in cars that are expected to cement the customer’s devotion to his or her dealer for service and repairs.  The irony here is that forces are afoot in the industry to deliver precisely the opposite value proposition – leverage vehicle diagnostic data (openly available via OBDII port connections) to enable an open market for vehicle repairs from which independent shops will benefit.

 

Before detailing emerging disruptive solutions it is useful to understand the current state of play in the automotive aftermarket, especially as regards embedded connectivity and smartphones:

 

OEMs – Car makers have only slowly begun to recognize the value of gathering and interpreting vehicle diagnostic data.  OnStar has famously led the way in this area, making use of its connected captive fleet to anticipate potentially expensive problems prior to vehicle launch.

 

OnStar has yet to completely embrace and use vehicle connectivity as an end-to-end diagnostic solution capable of being applied to supply chain processes during production and delivery of its cars.  Similarly, OnStar has left dealers out – failing to provide dealers with vehicle management tools such that GM dealers could use the telematics system to manage their customers as if they were fleet managers.

 

GM has taken the step of making a monthly vehicle health report available to the consumer and alerting dealers to diagnostic trouble codes from the vehicle.  But neither dealers not consumers have control of the information and, indeed, information access is limited either online or via smartphone apps.

 

Ford has yet to completely embrace the concept of embedded connectivity, but Ford has a smartphone-based application that enables the customer to obtain a fixed set of vehicle diagnostic information at the touch of a button in the car.  The button push produces an email with a diagnostic report on the car which is also transmitted to the customer’s preferred dealer and to Ford’s own engineers.

 

The Ford solution is attractive for allowing access to the information on demand, but it is reliant on email communication of the vehicle information and lacks real-time elements such as an explanation of the problem in the car or the provision for scheduling a dealer visit should one be necessary. 

 

Mercedes-Benz’s mbrace2 allows the customer to request a “ping” of the vehicle’s diagnostic data in real-time which can then be interpreted at that moment by a call center representative.  Mercedes does not provide for an on-board service scheduling capability, though the call center operator is presumably capable of contacting the dealer on the customer’s behalf. 

 

BMW’s TeleServices connected service will alert the dealer to scheduled maintenance, after which the dealer is obliged to contact the customer to schedule an appointment.  In the event of a diagnostic trouble code that triggers a message in the dashboard, the dealer is not notified and the customer must depress the in-car SOS button to summon assistance.  If the customer presses the SOS button, then BMW and the dealer will receive the diagnostic information. 

 

Hyundai is the most advanced car maker in the customer relationship space.  The company’s BlueLink embedded telematics solution enables real-time scheduling of dealer service appointments based on scheduled or unplanned repairs tied to in-vehicle alerts with the help of partner Xtime.  The cloud-based application enables a VIN-specific engagement with the customer along with integration with the dealer management system and access to a comprehensive database of diagnostic trouble codes and correlated service requirements including hours, parts and processes.

 

Hyundai is also the only OEM that is provisioning its on-board modem early enough to use it as a supply chain tool either during production and delivery or at least post-production.

 

In broad terms, the OEM threat to third party service providers, though real, is only just beginning to emerge.  Car makers are still coming to terms with core issues such as:

 

A - The opt-in participation of the customer in sharing vehicle data

B – The sharing of vehicle data with the customer on an ad hoc, on-demand or real-time

basis

C – The sharing of vehicle data with the dealer on a real-time basis

D – The use of vehicle connectivity data as a comprehensive, supply chain proposition

E – The use of vehicle data for customer retention purposes

 

Most OEMs with smartphone application integration are offering remote access to vehicle functions such as remote start and pre-conditioning.  And most EVs come with a smartphone integration solution that allows the user to determine the battery’s charge status remotely.  But more complete smartphone-based diagnostic tools have not yet arrived on the market. 

 

Aftermarket – Given the alarm expressed by AAIA at the threat posed by OEM customer relationship initiatives, it is the aftermarket that is making the greatest strides in enabling powerful customer connections intended to help obtain and retain aftersales business.  A growing portfolio of OBDII devices from Verizon (Delphi and Hughes), Audiovox, CarMD, GoPoint, Mavizon, CarShield, and Automatic, along with a host of usage-based insurance offerings are creating new opportunities to engage with customers via smartphone apps and/or customer-facing portals.

 

An another emerging layer of companies with such names as Vehcon and AutoAdvantage are creating smartphone-based platforms for service engagement designed around opening up service opportunities to third parties.  And there are general purpose diagnostic devices or applications from startups Automatic and Dash Labs, forensic-oriented offerings from companies such as Lysanda, and collision-oriented devices from companies such as In-Car Cleverness.

 

In fact, the veritable flood of aftermarket products in the market or coming soon promises increased awareness among consumers of the lowly OBDII port.  Whether consumers will embrace the opportunity attach these devices to their cars remains to be seen.  And there is no question that the companies offering these products will have to provide for periodic removal of the device to allow multiple devices to be plugged in at different times.

 

In the U.S., and in other markets, the battle lines are being drawn over what are called “right to repair” laws.  The state of Massachusetts was the latest entity to pass such a law requiring car makers to share vehicle diagnostic information to enable third parties, or even do-it-yourselfers, to access the codes and software necessary to fix increasingly sophisticated automotive systems.

 

The next stage in this battle is a growing clamor among independent dealers and the aftermarket industry as a whole to have access to diagnostic trouble codes in real time.  A new vehicle service paradigm is beginning to emerge in this context where service exchanges might emerge where diagnostic trouble codes are gathered and made public, in real time, and independent servicers are able to bid on the repairs.

 

In fact, one might imagine such an exchange residing in his or her dashboard or manifesting on a smartphone app in real time.  Engine light trips on and almost instantly the driver is provided interpretive information and a quote for the repair from the dealer and a couple of local independent shops.

 

Of course, it is important to remember that it was not so long ago that an embedded navigation system in a BMW would not even allow the driver to locate nearby Mercedes-Benz dealers from the on-board POI database.  But the opening up of vehicle connectivity, while creating new customer retention opportunities, may also open the door to increased opportunities for third-party parts and repair organizations.

 

The AAIA has it right.  A battle for the hearts, minds and service appointments of drivers is emerging – especially as cars last longer and longer – more than 11 years on average, according to R.L. Polk’s latest data.  The aftermarket is winning the arms race.  But OEMs are slowly awakening to the risk to their customer relationships.